The boom in luxury goods over the past decade is a China story. Emerging market buyers—and especially wealthy Chinese buyers—have been the driving force behind the boom in everything from high-end handbags to fine wine.
Let’s take a look at some examples starting with the granddaddy of all luxury goods companies, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMUY). LVMH, which is based in France, is the largest luxury conglomerate in the world. It’s best known for its expensive Louis Vuitton purses, but it’s also the owner of the Dom Pérignon and Moet & Chandon champagne brands, the Hennessey cognac brand, and the Glenmorangie scotch whisky brand, among others. It owns the Tag Heuer and Zenith lines of high-end Swiss watches, among others. LVMH even runs a partnership with global diamond leader De Beers. Together, LVMH is a one-stop shop for luxury goods.
It’s also completely dependent on spending by well-heeled Chinese shoppers. About 30% of LVMH’s revenues come from Asia, not including Japan. Most of these sales are in China and Hong Kong. But what you don’t see is the impact that Chinese tourists have on sales in American and European stores. Estimates are informal, but as much as half of the spending in LVMH’s flagship Paris store is believed to be done by Chinese shoppers.
It’s not just LVMH. British luxury retailer Burberry (BURBY) gets 36% of its revenues from the Asia Pacific region with most of this coming from China and Hong Kong. And again, a large chunk of the 39% of its sales in Europe are made to Chinese tourists.
Swiss watches? Same story. Swatch Group (SWGAY), the maker of Omega and several other luxury Swiss watch brands, gets nearly 40% of its sales from China. Including Chinese tourists buying watches in Europe, the number is estimated to be more than half of sales.
Industrywide, The Economist estimated last year that about half of all luxury spending in the world is done by Chinese shoppers, either in their home market or abroad as tourists.
All of this was fine and good when China was growing at a blistering pace. Now, it’s looking more and more like a liability. Last year China’s economy grew at its slowest rate since 1990, and it’s expected to slow again this year. Even worse, construction spending has been the driving force behind much of this growth. Real estate construction and services make up about 25% of the Chinese economy—higher than the levels we saw in Ireland, Spain, and the bubble regions of the U.S. before the bust. And at least a fifth of this new real estate is sitting unoccupied…even as new capacity continues to be built.
The Chinese economy is a bubble waiting to burst. But if China’s slowing economic growth wasn’t a big enough problem, China’s crackdown on corruption has already sapped demand from the luxury goods sector. In years past, the best way to curry favor with a powerful politician or businessman was to offer him a limited-edition bottle of wine…or perhaps a gold watch. But those sorts of arrangements will get you thrown in jail today.
When China really has a hard landing and has the major social unrest that comes with it, no wealthy Chinese citizen will want to be seen in public holding a purse that cost a year’s wages for a laborer. I expect the stock prices of luxury goods to reflect Chinese weakness long before we see it in the official GDP reports.
We’ll keep an eye on it.
Disclaimer: This site is for informational purposes only and should not be considered specific investment advice or as a solicitation to buy or sell any securities. Sizemore Capital personnel and clients will often have an interest in the securities mentioned. There is risk in any investment in traded securities, and all Sizemore Capital investment strategies have the possibility of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.