October 24, 2018 / 7:35 AM / a month ago

Kering, Moncler counter luxury gloom with bullish China view

PARIS/MILAN (Reuters) - Gucci owner Kering (PRTP.PA) led a share price rally in the luxury goods sector on Wednesday after offering up an upbeat outlook on its Chinese clientele, countering fears of a spending slowdown amid a trade war with the United States.

Italy’s Moncler (MONC.MI), maker of high-end down jackets, added to the bullish assessment later in the day, pointing to “very strong demand” in the first weeks of October among a customer base that has become key to the industry, accounting for a third of all luxury goods purchases globally.

A weakening pace of economic growth in China, against the backdrop of a trade spat between Beijing and Washington, had sparked a sell-off in recent weeks across the sector.

While Kering and other players have argued spending by China’s young, middle class shoppers was unlikely to drop off abruptly, better-than-expected third quarter sales from the French conglomerate late on Tuesday helped drive the point home.

Shares in Kering, which were also hit over worries Gucci was running out of steam, surged in early trading on Wednesday and closed up 4.8 percent after the Italian brand’s sales proved more resilient than expected.

The stock market prices of rivals also edged up, including Louis Vuitton owner LVMH (LVMH.PA), the industry’s biggest conglomerate and Britain’s Burberry (BRBY.L), which is trying to engineer a sales boost.

“In terms of spending power, the situation is still quite sound in China. The demographics should help as well,” Jean-Marc Duplaix, Kering’s financial director, told an analyst conference call on Tuesday.

He added Kering was if anything seeing an improvement in the retention rate of Chinese millenial customers, or those in the roughly early 20s to mid-30s age bracket, and that overall, demand had so far not dipped.

That extended into the beginning of the fourth quarter at Gucci, Duplaix said.

Moncler, which posted a 23 percent rise in nine month sales at constant currencies on Wednesday evening, echoed that view.

“Chinese demand has been very strong in the third quarter, totally in line with the first half,” Chief Operating Officer Luciano Santel told an analyst conference call. Trading during China’s “Golden Week” holiday in early October had been “better this year than last”, he said.

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Not all luxury brands have benefited equally from a strong rebound in Chinese demand over the past two years, and the highly-valued sector is still vulnerable to a sell-off if concerns rear their head again.

Kering’s Bottega Veneta handbag brand suffered more than expected in the third quarter, and others like Burberry and Salvatore Ferragamo (SFER.MI) are still in turnaround mode.

“Third quarter sales were encouraging, with strong underlying trends,” Berenberg analysts wrote in a note on Kering. “The strong sequential deceleration at the still struggling Bottega Veneta ... showed that the widely feared slowdown in luxury demand seems to have affected only the more troubled brands so far.”

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Sarah White, Valentina Za and Claudia Cristoferi; Editing by Mark Potter and Kirsten Donovan

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