Analyst Note| Jelena Sokolova, CFA |
After a perfect storm in 2020, the luxury industry looks poised for a blue-sky scenario in 2021 as a strong sales rebound is driven by resilient luxury consumers' incomes, steady real estate, and strong equity markets as well as savings from previous coronavirus lockdowns, and the psychological need for people to reward themselves after a stressful time. As a result luxury share prices have rallied, leaving many industry players trading near record levels. Nonetheless, we could not identify structural changes in the industry post-COVID-19 that would justify sustainably higher growth and profitability, and hence, valuations. We believe the pickup in gross domestic product, or GDP, and luxury consumption in the U.S. is temporary. Although we expect Chinese consumers to continue driving the industry's growth, we don't expect post-COVID-19 acceleration, while the "common prosperity" drive by the Chinese government could temporarily hurt the industry through higher taxation and adverse sentiment over conspicuous consumption. Finally, although we expect online luxury sales to reach over 30% of the industry's sales over the next decade from low teens in 2019, we don’t expect this shift to meaningfully alter the industry's economics. Luxury companies are likely to preserve their pricing in the channel, thanks to growing control over distribution and the industry's inherent pricing power. While the online channel for the luxury sector looks more profitable than for mass apparel--thanks to higher average order values and lower return rates--the shift is unlikely to result in a major profit increase for companies that already have high in-store sales densities, such as LVMH's Louis Vuitton. Companies with lower sales densities, such as Hugo Boss, could benefit from the shift as long as they manage their store portfolios proactively.