April 18, 2019 / 7:53 AM / a month ago

Kering shares slide as Gucci's growth slows

PARIS (Reuters) - Kering (PRTP.PA) shares retreated sharply on Thursday after signs of slowing growth at the French luxury group’s Gucci brand, particularly in the United States.

FILE PHOTO: A Gucci sign is seen outside a shop in Paris, France, December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Analysts honed in on Gucci’s performance as one of the main reasons for the share price drop, after Kering’s first-quarter update released after Wednesday’s market close showed U.S. growth cooling at Gucci, which accounts for some 60 percent of group sales.

The stock, which had hit a record on Tuesday ahead of the update, was down 3 percent by 0925 GMT, lagging rivals like Louis Vuitton owner LVMH (LVMH.PA) or Italian luxury jacket maker Moncler (MONC.MI), which also traded lower.

Gucci, with annual sales surpassing 8 billion euros ($9 billion), has outperformed most of its peers in the past two years thanks to a flamboyant revamp under designer Alessandro Michele.

That trend remained intact, with the brand posting first-quarter comparable sales growth of 20 percent, still higher than Vuitton and a touch above what some analysts had expected.

But investors had grown accustomed to Gucci beating forecasts by a wide margin, and its slowdown was partly due to a weaker performance in the United States. Leather goods specialist Bottega Veneta (BV) also disappointed.

Gucci’s latest sales growth of 20 percent was less than 28 percent three months earlier, and down from nearly 50 percent at the start of 2018.

“There were two dark spots ... Gucci U.S. decelerated to 5 percent organic sales growth and Bottega Veneta was back down at minus 9 percent, down more than in previous quarters,” JP Morgan said in a note.

Maybelline mascara maker L’Oreal (OREP.PA) on Tuesday also pointed to a surprisingly weaker U.S. backdrop.

U.S. PRESSURES

Asked about U.S. pressures, Kering CFO Jean-Marc Duplaix said on Wednesday the year-on-year comparison base there was very high, while the economic environment had softened a little.

But there was no “specific concern so far,” Duplaix told analysts. Clients in North America tended to spend more on clothing and shoes than handbags, a category that is expected to grow faster this year, he added.

JP Morgan analysts noted a falling U.S. stock market at the end of last year could have fed through to consumer spending in the first quarter.

Duplaix did not quantify any impact from a outcry over a sweater Gucci quickly pulled from sale and apologised for after some consumers said it was racist. The black rollneck featured large red lips cut out around the mouth area.

Kering is still seen as one of the luxury industry’s best performers, thanks to Gucci’s strength in thriving markets like China and despite an overhaul at Bottega Veneta.

“Management said that growth for Gucci in March was in line with January-February combined, which we see as reassuring,” RBC Capital Markets said. “Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen continue to shine, while BV’s difficulties in a transition year are not enough to offset the positives.”

Additional reporting by Pascale Denis and Laetitia Volga; Editing by Alexander Smith and David Holmes

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