After a bumper year, the luxury-goods industry is heading for uncertain times

MORE than any other industry, the luxury-goods business needs people to feel good about spending money. So at a recent conference in Moscow, Bernard Arnault, the head of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), the world's biggest luxury-goods group, went to great lengths to dismiss investors' fears about the impact on the industry of America's credit crisis, a possible recession and the weak dollar. Indeed, Mr Arnault said he expects the industry's sales almost to double in the next five years, thanks to strong demand from emerging markets and the creation of new wealth across the globe.

After a depressing period at the beginning of the decade when the terrorist attacks in America, the outbreak of SARS and the war in Iraq reduced international travel and people's appetite for frivolous things, the industry has had three excellent years. According to Bain, a consultancy, sales of luxury goods grew by 9% in 2006 to euro159 billion ($200 billion) and will reach about euro170 billion this year, which would be double the 1996 figure. Europe remains the biggest market, with about 40% of sales, though the strongest growth is in China, Russia, the Middle East and some Latin American countries.

Can the industry really double again in half the time? Analysts at Citigroup say that Christmas will be good this year for luxury-goods firms, but they are more cautious about next year because of worries about falling demand in America. It is tempting to think that luxury goods are isolated from the broader economy, because customers are rich enough to ignore it, says Luca Solca, a luxury-goods analyst at Bernstein Research. But the industry's expansion into a broader "aspirational" market, by selling to the merely affluent, makes it susceptible.

And as luxury firms expand in Asia and the Americas, they will continue to suffer currency woes. Most of the industry's production is in the euro-zone, mainly in France and Italy. Even the optimistic Mr Arnault complained at his firm's recent annual meeting that the euro had reached "incomprehensible" levels against the dollar and the yen. Luxury companies could shift more of their production to countries with weaker currencies and cheap labour (ie, China), but some customers--especially Asian customers--want the elitism and craftsmanship associated with products manufactured in Europe.

At least sales in emerging markets are growing fast. But Melanie Flouquet, a luxury analyst at JPMorgan, an investment bank, says that this growth is not enough to offset a slowdown in America. Chinese and Russian consumers account for around 7% and 4% of global luxury sales respectively, compared with 16-18% for Americans. Even so, European firms are sticking to their plans in New York, America's fashion capital. Gucci will open its biggest shop in February in Trump Tower, a shiny skyscraper on New York's Fifth Avenue.

Ermenegildo Zegna will also open a shop on Fifth Avenue next year. And this week Dolce & Gabbana re-opened its spruced-up shop on Madison Avenue.Claudia D'Arpizio of Bain thinks luxury makers need to follow Giorgio Armani and segment their customers more carefully with different product lines at different price ranges. She predicts that the industry will see solid growth rates of up to 10% a year in the near term. This means that the industry could double in ten years--by which time China is likely to account for more than a quarter and maybe as much as a third of the world's consumption of luxury goods. Yet Mr Arnault's rosy prediction seems unlikely to come true. As Americans tighten their purse-strings, over-optimism is a luxury even this industry cannot afford.

中文:

精品市場不再亮麗?

作者:經濟學人 譯者:宋東(譯) 2007.12.19/ 第387期

經歷不順遂的一年,精品市場前景坎坷。
買精品,需要消費者對花錢有更大的信心。難怪,世界最大精品盟主法國酩悅.軒尼詩──路易.威登集團﹝LVMH﹞掌門貝納阿諾﹝Bernard Arnault﹞,最近在莫斯科要極力救火,呼籲投資人不要被美國信貸危機、經濟衰退、美元下跌等壞消息影響,因為新興經濟足夠支撐全球精品消費市場的成長。

近三年,精品市場成長很好,二○○六年銷售成長九%,達二千億美元,今年更高達一千七百億歐元﹝約二千四百億美元﹞,是九六年的一倍。歐洲仍是最大市場,佔總體業績四成,但最強的業績成長卻來自中國、俄羅斯、中東和拉丁美洲。花旗銀行分析師指出,今年耶誕的業績也會不錯,但明年美國的業績卻不看好。

許多人認為,精品市場應不受總經數字影響,因為有錢人根本不在乎大盤。但隨著精品逐漸平民化,新富階級的消費能力就沒那麼穩定。而且精品公司往亞洲、美洲擴張,也增加匯兌的風險。因為精品都在歐元區生產,最近歐元大漲,對營收是很大的打擊。當然,精品公司也可以將生產線遷移到貨幣、勞工較便宜的國家﹝如中國﹞,但亞洲消費者對精品「菁英」品級的要求,也關乎產地是否「金貴」。

至少,新興市場的精品銷售成長仍舊看好。但摩根大通精品分析師卻指出,新興市場的成長無法彌補美國市場的損失。中國、俄羅斯消費者只佔全球精品銷售量的七%與四%,而美國銷售量卻佔一六至一八%。因此,歐洲精品商仍將固守美國時尚首都紐約。

然而,也有精品分析師指出,精品未來仍將維持每年一○%的成長,也就是說十年內將成長一倍。屆時中國精品的銷售量將佔全球銷售的四分之一,甚至將佔全球精品消費的三分之一。

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