LVMH Is An Attractive Opportunity (Luxury Goods Series)


This is the first in a series of articles covering the luxury goods industry. In it I argue that LVMH possesses unique brand strengths, excellent management, growth in end markets, and represents a good long term value purchase at today’s price, particularly on a relative basis. The competitors in the space include: LVMH (OTCPK:LVMUY), Compagnie Financiere Richemont (OTCPK:CFRUY), Hermes (OTCPK:HESAY), Kering (OTCPK:PPRUY), Swatch Group (OTCPK:SWGAY), Burberry (OTCPK:BURBY), and Tiffany (TIF). Others such as Luxottica (OTCPK:LUXTY) and Ralph Lauren (RL) are sometimes considered competitors in a narrow sense. However, their brand strategies, distribution, and products differ in important ways so as to not make them true competitors. They cannot be analyzed within the same framework as the true luxury goods companies listed above and have been left out.

LVMH is a good place to begin this series as its various segments cover the entire space. These segments include: Wines & Spirits (WS), Fashion & Leather Goods (FL), Perfumes & Cosmetics (PC), Watches & Jewelry (WJ), and Selective Retailing (SR). Once we’ve covered these segments and their strategy, other companies need only be compared to specific segments of LVMH (e.g. Hermes to Fashion & Leather Goods, Tiffany to Watches & Jewelry, etc.)

Background and Strategy:

LVMH as a company is as interesting as its founder, Bernard Arnault. Many pages can be written about Mr. Arnault himself but, for our purposes, it should suffice to say that he’s one of the most astute businessmen in the world today. Having started out in real estate and construction, he got into luxury goods through the acquisition of Boussac out of bankruptcy in 1984. Boussac had many divisions which were divested or closed. The jewel (though it could hardly be called that at the time) wrapped up inside Boussac was Christian Dior. Arnault turned around Dior and later on used it to take a stake in a company that became today’s LVMH after many acquisitions over the years. (For those who care about small details, Boussac contained Dior Couture and Dior Parfums was always part of LVMH. In 2017, Dior Couture was united with LVMH to bring all of Dior’s activities together). Through all of his activities, Arnault created tremendous value for shareholders, and in the process, became the richest man in Europe. For those interested in more background on Mr. Arnault, CNBC made a good biographic documentary on him which can be accessed here.

To get a sense of what the company is today, consider some of the well-known brands owned by the company: Louis Vuitton, Dior, Fendi, Marc Jacobs, Moet & Chandon, Dom Perignon, Hennessy, Glenmorangie, Bulgari, Tag Heuer, Hublot, and Sephora. There are many other recognizable brands but it would be impractical to list them all. I’ve listed the major ones so as to give an idea of the strength and diversity of brands owned by LVMH.

It’s important to understand the unifying strategy used by Arnault in managing this sprawling empire of luxury brands. His strategy has always been to create desirability for LVMH’s products in the minds of consumers. This is the very opposite of the mass merchandising strategy used by mass-market brands (which is the reason for my comment in the first paragraph that those companies cannot be analyzed using a framework similar to luxury goods). As an example, Louis Vuitton has never held a sale or distributed product through outlets, even if they had surplus inventory or styles that didn’t sell well. Doing so would bring a temporary increase in sales but would tarnish the brand in the minds of consumers forever. Selling luxury goods is as much about quality as it is about psychology – creating desire and aspiration that is difficult to fulfil is good for business as it allows you to raise prices (and, hence margins) and build that elusive intangible asset, “mindshare”. This concept will apply to all of the luxury goods companies. Some are better at executing it than others. LVMH is among the best. The company destroys its excess/unsold inventory to protect brand value. As an example of mishandling, witness how Coach managed to dilute its brand by applying mass market strategies to what used to be a prestige brand. Today it’s seen as a down market brand and competes on price against its zillion mass-market competitors producing abysmal returns on capital. It’s better to be patient and long-term greedy. To let that sink in, consider the following statement from a luxury goods reseller:

While certain fashion industry reports dictate there’s a decline in the category of tote handbags for other brands, the Louis Vuitton Neverfull remains popular due to periodic price increases and high demand…It retains at least 85% of its resale value, unless it’s a rare limited-edition bag, which can see upward of double the resale value.

Now, how many products have higher demand due to periodic price increases? That is the definition of creating desirability.


Let’s examine LVMH’s segments. Revenues for the last three years by segment are presented below:

(Data source: Company filings)

I’ll address these in order of their contribution to operating profits (except for Selective Retailing which has different characteristics from other segments). Total profit from recurring operations for LVMH in FY18 was €10 billion and is detailed below:

(Data source: Company filings)

Fashion & Leather Goods: This segment contributed €5.9 billion in operating income, or 59% of the total.

(Data source: Company filings)

The flagship brand Louis Vuitton (LV) is housed here and contributes more than half of the revenue and just as much, if not more, of the profits. Consolidation of Christian Dior Couture provided an 8% increase in revenues, though the segment itself had phenomenal organic growth of 15%. This was fueled primarily by LV but also by Fendi, growth in Dior, etc. The segment also exhibits good operational leverage with incremental margins higher than segment margins by 200 bps. Also, note that of the approximately €3 billion growth in recurring profits between FY16 and FY18, more than €2 billion came from this segment, making it crucial to understanding the growth and profitability drivers and to making an educated investment decision.

As to growth, readers might be surprised to know that despite the ubiquity of LV, Dior, and Fendi products in the US, almost 42% of FL sales come from Asia and only 18% from the US. The growth of the segment almost certainly depends on the brand’s strength and competitive positioning in Asia. This is a recurring concept in the luxury goods space as we’ll see. There are very few local luxury brands competing in Asia (unlike, say, the competition that McDonalds or Starbucks faces) and local governments have not given especially adverse treatment to luxury goods (unlike technology, credit card networks, etc.). Within Asia, the Chinese consumer is the most important for future growth. On that front, the growth of the Chinese economy bodes well for LVMH long-term though, of course, there’ll be the occasional hiccup.

Pricing in Asia is similar to global pricing. Thus, growth comes at good margins. This is an exception to the general experience of other western companies in Asia and speaks to the nature of well cultivated luxury brands as I referenced before. It allows LVMH to exercise control over the brand “mindshare” and charge a premium price, even when that price represents a larger share of a consumers income in Asia as compared to the US or Europe. Growth in the middle class in China, India and other emerging countries should provide a nice tailwind to FLG over time.

Channel checks, consumer reviews, and anecdotal experience shows that the brand strength continues to be high. There has been some concern over the years about counterfeits and whether they could suppress demand for the real goods. However, from the research I have read most of the customers buying counterfeits would generally not be customers of the genuine goods. Further, the fakes, in a way, serve to increase the desirability of the real thing and serve as a confirmatory signal for future demand (as a mental experiment, consider why no fake Nine West products are out there and why not.)

Wines & Spirits: This segment contributed €1.6 billion in operating income, or 16% of the total.

(Data source: Company filings)

Champagne volumes were down 1% while organic growth was up 4% owing to price increases. Cognacs and spirits were up in volume and, to a lesser extent, price. In particular Hennessy volume was up 3% with organic revenue growth of 7%, again on higher pricing. LVMH’s value based firm pricing policy is paying dividends here. While it would be nice to have higher volumes in champagnes and wines, this is more of a supply issue. They simply do not have enough supply to satisfy demand which, while holding back current period revenues, bodes well for future increases. New facilities for increasing cognac production are also in the works. Despite only a modest increase in reported revenues of 1.3%, pricing increase meant a significant increase in operating income and a 110 bps increase in margins to 31.7%.

This segment is geographically evenly spread out with 25% exposure to Europe, 32% to the US, 29% to Asia, and the rest to other markets. Growth in cognac is especially concentrated in China and the US and should continue to provide mid-single digit revenue growth with margin improvement.

This segment is peculiar in that liquor, even expensive ones, are generally not considered a luxury good. The average price point of LVMH’s products are between $23-25 per bottle and very attainable for most. Controlling inventory does not help brand value/strength in this category which is, instead, driven by distinctive marketing. Within our set of luxury goods companies listed above, this is one segment where we will not see another competitor. In the future I hope to do an article on Pernod Ricard and Diageo which should serve as better comparable companies for this segment.

Watches & Jewelry: This segment contributed €0.7 billion in operating income, or 7% of the total. Revenue was up 12% on an organic basis with margins up 360 bps due to good operating leverage.

(Data source: Company filings)

This segment contains Bulgari, one of the premier jewelers in the world and a significant contributor to FY18’s growth. Though Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels (both to be covered in CFRUY article), and Harry Winston (OTCPK:SWGAY) are the leading brands in jewelry commanding the most pricing power and permanence, Bulgari, which was slipping not long ago, has performed better since LVMH’s acquisition in 2011 owing to experimentation, redesign, and more muscle (and money!) behind distribution.

Despite the troubles in the watch industry, TAG Heuer and Hublot turned in better than industry performance. Long term, there are questions about TAG and whether it has gone too down market and reduced its desirability. These two are far from the strongest brands in the watch industry (a distinction held by Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Rolex), yet their performance has been acceptable this year. TAG has tried to walk the line in the market bifurcation between smartwatches and mechanical watches by doing both. The problem with this approach has been that most of the smart watch crowd prefers the Apple watch and once you start becoming known as a smart watch company, it takes away from your ability to price mechanical watches (mostly seen as jewelry by consumers) at $3000+.

In general, watches have had a tough time of late owing to too much inventory in the channel. Brands have had to repurchase and destroy inventory (which we will address in upcoming articles). The reason for this has to do with the wholesale nature of the watch business. As noted previously, when selling luxury products, it’s of utmost importance to maintain control over inventory to prevent a development of a gray market or illegal discounting. In the luxury space, the watch business has not developed that way, leading to a sizeable gray market which affects perceived brand value and pre-owned value. In turn, these affect pricing power of the manufacturer. Only Patek Philippe and Rolex have managed to steer clear of this. Michael Burke of LVMH said it well:

Today, too many luxury brands are chasing business by going on to e-wholesale, which is going back to where we were in the 1970s when we didn’t control our distribution in faraway lands. Why would you do that? Why would you forgo a direct relationship with your client? What baffles me is that the watchmakers don’t get that.

The present outlook for watches is not very good and LVMH’s brands are not the strongest. That submarket will float with the tide of the entire industry. Jewelry, on the other hand, should continue to do well over time though wealth effect plays into jewelry purchases in a big way. So expect it to be volatile. Here again Asia dominates, accounting for 47% of total revenues with the US only at 9%, given cultural differences.

Perfumes & Cosmetics: This segment contributed €0.7 billion in operating income, or 7% of the total. Organic growth was 14% and operating income grew by a similar amount.

(Data source: Company filings)

Almost two thirds of the segment revenue is driven by makeup and skin care. Growth was especially high in Asia which now represents almost 40% of revenue. Proliferation of brands is the norm in this submarket, which is evidenced by lower margins (11% in PC v/s 32% for FL). Brands are generally not as strong and pricing power is minimal. FY18’s growth was driven by Parfums Christion Dior, among others.

Selective Retailing: This segment contributed €1.4 billion in operating income, or 14% of the total. Selective retailing consists of Sephora, DFS, and Le Bon Marche. Sephora continues its expansion and success in North America and Asia, with US being the largest market. As female readers or male readers with spouses/girlfriends know, Sephora has been an incredible success and one of the shining stars of retail. Its sales per square foot rival that of the most productive stores with a lot of potential for new stores. Sephora has a long run way ahead with less than 2000 stores globally. One concern here would be to keep an eye on JC Penny as many Sephora locations are housed within JC Penney and its financial distress could affect Sephora in the future (though there are no such signs at the moment).

(Data source: Company filings)

DFS purposely underbid for and lost the Hong Kong airport concessions back in 2017 as that operation was producing losses. As a result, even though revenues grew slower (6% organic but 12% excluding HK DFS), operating profits were up sharply by almost 30%. Operating margins at 10.1% are among the better ones in retail.


Adding up all of the above and making adjustments for non-recurring items yields and adjusted EBITDA of €12,075 million. LVMH earned a return on net tangible assets of between 30-40% over the last few years conveniently placing it in the “good business” category. Based on a current Adjusted EPS of 12.81, Adjusted EBITDA of €12,075 million, current P/E multiple stands at 23 and EV/Adjusted EBITDA stands at 13.2. While not downright cheap, these aren’t particularly high compared to other such quality businesses or competitors (as we will see in subsequent articles) or compared to treasury rates (particularly in Europe). Further, as shown over the last three years, the business has great incremental margins, which serve to lower the multiple paid on a forward basis (closer to 21x P/E).

It’s not sufficiently cheap to start a full position, but I do feel that a quarter of a full position may be started with more purchases to come if/when the price drops further. This should allow for four purchases to get to a full position should there be a break in the market or a recession.

(Data source: Company filings, Bloomberg)


There are two types of risks to consider. The first type is that of a transient nature, either an economic downturn (particularly in Asia) or an increase in raw material costs, trade wars, etc. If the brands maintain their value almost all of these transient risks will dissipate over time. A recession is eventually over, prices can be raised, and trade wars may increase pricing but won’t affect desirability. A strong brand can overcome a lot and I don’t worry too much about transient risks.

The second type of risk is that of a permanent change in the perceived value of the brands, either due to mishandling or due to emergence of newer brands, particularly due to the disintermediation allowed by social media. The risk of mishandling under Arnault is low. He has built up the company over almost 40 years by sticking to principles that work. The larger risk is that of disintermediation in a way that would’ve been almost unbelievable a few years ago. Consider the fact that brands often pay influencers and celebrities to use their products as a form of advertising/endorsement so that their followers/fans may adopt the same products. Historically, the product still needed distribution provided by the brand. Recently, we’ve seen several cases (most famously Kylie Jenner) where a celebrity with a following can leverage social media and logistics to launch brands and scale them quickly. Jenner’s company employs just 7 people, production is outsourced, and sales have surpassed the $1 billion mark. Of course, this is less likely to happen where real workmanship is involved (Kylie cannot make or outsource quality mechanical watches or jewelry) but is nevertheless a real risk as brands in perfumes, cosmetics, leather goods, etc. can form quickly and soak up consumer dollars.

Foreign exchange is sometimes considered a risk by some analysts. I’m not too worried about FX. Fluctuations in FX affect LVMH in two ways – transactional gains and losses and translational gains and losses. The company hedges its transactional exposures and the movements in the hedges also play in FX gains and losses. Any business with activities on all continents is going to have FX exposure and given the diverse exposure of LVMH, I don’t particularly worry about something untoward happening with any particular currency. They should all balance out over time.


In conclusion, I consider LVMH at recent prices to be a good relative value purchase for a long term investor given the strength of its brands, astute management, high incremental margins (and, thus, earnings growth) and expected high sales growth in the Asian markets over time.

Disclosure: I am/we are long LVMUY. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

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