Bernard Arnault of LVMH says Tiffany’s acquisition almost entirely paid for already
Speaking at the publication of LVMH's record-breaking 2021 results, Bernard Arnault was barely able to hide his satisfaction, and proved to be especially talkative. On Friday January 27, the French luxury giant’s boss notably expressed his opinion on a number of topics that are crucial for his empire, and for the luxury market, during this post-pandemic recovery period. What follows is Arnault’s handbook for 2022.
If the economy will continue to perform as it did in January, 2022 is set to proceed in the best of fashion according to Arnault, who nevertheless called for vigilance with regards to inflation. “Opinions differ on [inflation]. Some are pessimistic about it, others regard it as a transitory phenomenon,” he said. Arnault is inclined to think that the price rises in raw materials and energy are simply cyclical.
“The post-pandemic recovery has caused a global bottleneck. Once it will be absorbed, markets will return to a normal state of affairs. Our group is used to weathering economic crises, but I do not predict such a crisis this year. We have an advantage over other [groups], since there is some flexibility built into our prices. We have the means to react to inflationary pressures. Otherwise, I believe demand for our products will continue to be strong,” said Arnault.
At €13.5 billion, LVMH’s available operating cash-flow for 2021 was more than twice what it was in 2020 and 2019. The group, which bought Tiffany & Co. at the end of 2020 for €13.4 billion, is in extremely sound financial health, and could easily embark on new operations, now that the luxury market is looking extremely attractive in the wake of the pandemic. LVMH added a new name to its 75-label galaxy in October, when it bought French cosmetics brand L’Officine Universelle Buly, as Arnault mentioned.
He was however cagey about the possibility of carrying out new acquisitions this year, saying that “We mustn’t rush into anything. We never do. We have plenty of time. They say we carry out a great deal of acquisitions, but we’ve only done a handful. We recently made a major one with Tiffany, which is almost fully paid for already. Fantastic! Should we come across another [opportunity], why not? To make good acquisitions, one must not necessarily hunt for them, one must be opportunistic.”
“Of course, we do assess our companies. We try to analyse, understand and develop them. From time to time, we regard some of them as too small, or not quite suitable, and we jettison them. But it’s an absolutely marginal phenomenon. It's only happened two or three times,” said Arnault, underlining once more the need for patience: “It won't happen in a rush. One must be patient, hold one's nerve, let time do the work in order to find the ideal fit. If, after long deliberations, we are no longer convinced, only then do we draw our conclusions.”
The African-American designer’s death from cancer at the age of 41 on November 28 2021 raised the issue of his succession at the head of menswear for Louis Vuitton, the group’s flagship label whose men's collections Abloh had been in charge of since March 2018. Asked about this during the press conference, Arnault replied as follows: “We are extremely sad. No one expected he would pass away so quickly. It was a tragedy. [Abloh] was an extraordinarily powerful designer. He was more than a fashion designer, he was a man of culture. We are still grieving for him, and I will talk about his succession once the mourning period is over.”
Duty-free retail and the parallel market
With regards to duty-free retail, Arnault was surprisingly outspoken: “It's true that our perfumes and cosmetics division is much less strong than those of other groups, in terms of revenue. But this is intentional. Why? You’ll notice that a number of groups state that part of their retail revenue is generated duty-free. This is questionable, since their stores appear empty of customers. We can explain how this happens through duty-free retail. Products are sold, but not through regular stores. They are shipped from the stores’ cellars to distributors in China, who then sell them at hefty discounts, with an extremely negative impact on brand image. In the long-term, it’s very bad practice. We refuse to adopt it, and the same goes for Chanel. At least two of us aren’t going for this. We want to preserve our labels’ brand image in the long term.”
“The metaverse is an exclusively virtual world. We exist in the real world, and we sell real products. Of course, [the metaverse] is interesting and very amusing. We shall have to see what its practical use will be. Undoubtedly, if done consistently with a brand’s activity, it could have a positive impact, but our goal isn't selling virtual sneakers for €10 a pair. Yet, working in the metaverse might be interesting. It’s early days still. Which apps, which versions of the metaverse will gain traction? We are looking into it. Having said this, we must also be wary of bubble effects,” said Arnault.
“In terms of pricing policies, we try to keep a balance. Our products’ prices allow us to earn entirely suitable margins. But we also have a responsibility towards customers. We don’t want to give the impression that we could reach values that are inconsistent with the economic reality of product prices. One must be reasonable,” concluded Arnault.
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