Consumer

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.

A fashion classic never goes out of style. And so with LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE.

The world's largest luxury goods group reported first quarter organic sales growth that beat expectations across every division. The high margin fashion and leather goods arm was a particular stand out, expanding 15 percent during the period versus the 9 percent analysts had forecast.

Pleasant Surprise
LVMH beat consensus forecasts across every division
Source: Company reports, Bloomberg

To some extent, the performance was flattered by comparisons with a year earlier, when China was suffering from stock-market gyrations, and many of the country's shoppers abandoned trips to Europe after the Paris terrorist attacks.

Even so, there's denying that luxury is back from the brink.

Asia's biggest economy is rebounding, and there are signs of improvement in the hardest hit regions of Hong Kong and Macau. Europe is benefiting from a return of the traveling luxury consumer. And LVMH said "momentum remains positive" in the U.S. That has been a difficult market for companies, with a strong dollar deterring tourists from splashing out, and turmoil in department stores.

Wardrobe Staple
Even during the luxury trough, LVMH generated organic growth
Source: Bloomberg Intelligence

But while the market has moved on from the trough of 2016, so have valuations. The Bloomberg Intelligence luxury peer group is up 17 percent over the past 12 months, more than double the MSCI World Consumer Durables & Apparel Index.

There are some reasons for caution, however.

For one, the recovery isn't evenly spread. While handbags might be making a comeback, some categories, such as Swiss watches, remain stubbornly difficult.

There's also still the potential for upset from elections in Europe, while any event that disrupts global travel would be detrimental to demand. Further improvement in the U.S. will be influenced to some extent by the policies of President Donald Trump, including whether tax cuts for the wealthy are delivered.

En Vogue
Shares in LVMH soared to a record after first-quarter sales beat estimates
Source: Bloomberg

For the momentum to be maintained, China will need to continue its acceleration. Across the board comparisons will get tougher in the second half, when the first green shoots of recovery emerged.

Indeed, LVMH warned that investors shouldn't extrapolate full-year performance from the first three months. Robust demand for cognac could also impact stock availability for the remainder of the year.

Nevertheless, LVMH looks well-placed. With shares at a record high, the group trades on a forward price earnings ratio of 22 times, a deserved premium to the BI luxury peer group's multiple of 20.

Fashion Forward
LVMH's forward price earings ratio is at a premium to luxury peers and consumer groups
Source: Bloomberg

Not only does LVMH have scale, it's diversified both geographically, and across sectors. As well as fashion and leather goods, and wine and spirits, it has significant exposure to the fast-growing beauty segment, both through its perfumes and cosmetics division, and ownership of the Sephora retail chain.

Those factors should put LVMH in good stead as the vogue for all things luxe gathers pace. And like any good wardrobe staple, they also offer some protection if trends change.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Andrea Felsted in London at afelsted@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katrina Nicholas at knicholas2@bloomberg.net