PARIS (Reuters) - LVMH (LVMH.PA), the world’s biggest luxury group, said the outlook for 2012 was “excellent” and hiked its dividend after rapid growth in Asia and at its Louis Vuitton brand helped it post a forecast-beating rise in full-year operating profit.
The French group, which last year bought Italian jeweller Bulgari, brushed off concerns about the global economy with a 22 percent rise in 2011 profit from recurring operations to 5.26 billion euros (4.38 billion pounds) on sales up 16 percent at 23.66 billion euros.
It was expected to achieve profit of 5.1 billion euros on revenue of 23.3 billion euros, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S estimates.
LVMH said that “despite an uncertain economic environment in Europe” it “enters 2012 with confidence,” adding that it planned to increase the dividend to shareholders paid on last year’s results by 24 percent.
Chief Executive Bernard Arnault said business trends in January had been the same as at the end of last year, adding that the company’s priority remained organic growth, with acquisitions the exception.
The luxury industry has been on tenterhooks in recent months over worries that Europe’s long-running debt crisis could trigger an economic slowdown in emerging markets like China, where runaway demand for high-end goods has offset weaker trends in the U.S. and Europe.
LVMH saw the fastest growth in profit last year at its watches and jewellery business. The purchase of Bulgari doubled the size of that division.
Executives at the Geneva watch fair last month suggested that strong demand from Asia was unlikely to make up for weakness in the U.S. and Europe, with growth seen slowing from the record level achieved last year.
LVMH’s fashion and leather goods unit saw profit rise by one-fifth, helped by “double-digit revenue growth and exceptional profitability” at the Louis Vuitton fashion brand, the group said.
Swiss luxury goods group Richemont CFR.VX said last month that sales growth held up in the last three months of 2011 - underpinned by buoyant Asian demand and Chinese tourists flocking to European boutiques - allowing it to confirm its fiscal full-year profit goal.
British luxury brand Burberry (BRBY.L) reported a sharp slowdown in U.S. sales growth in its fiscal third quarter, though it too said that demand from Asian shoppers and tourists remained strong.
LVMH, which took the luxury world by surprise in late 2010 by announcing it had built a stake in Hermes, said in December its holding had risen to 22.3 percent though it repeated it did not want to buy the maker of Kelly handbags and silk scarves.
Hermes family shareholders have responded by creating a majority holding to shield it from the threat of a takeover.
Shares in LVMH are up almost 16 percent so far this year.
Reporting by James Regan and Pascale Denis; Editing by Leila Abboud and Elaine Hardcastle