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Future For Luxury Goods Looks A Little Brighter

Growing Demand In China’s Interior, Other Asian Countries Should Counterbalance Tepid Consumption Elsewhere

Although Chinese consumers have shown a taste for foreign luxury brands, domestic labels will present stiff competition in coming years

Although Chinese consumers have shown a taste for foreign luxury brands, domestic labels will present stiff competition in coming years

As a result of the fast-paced development of China’s eastern coastline and special administrative regions, only recently have major luxury brands made it to the country’s vast interior region, where a number of second- and third-tier cities remain relative blank slates. Since so many companies are only reaching these areas now, the spread of luxury brands in China has become a regular news story. This has only intensified over the last year, as formerly free-spending Japanese and American customers have thought twice about luxury goods while emerging customers in places like the BRIC countries and relatively fast-growing economies like Vietnam become more regular (and brand-loyal) buyers. Nonetheless, the luxury sector is still experiencing only modest growth one year on from the onset of the global economic slowdown despite their best efforts at wooing new customers.

If many recent articles are correct, though, what we’ve seen over the last year — severe as it has been — should only prove to be a blip in the grand scheme of luxury revenues. From Financier Worldwide:

Sales of designer shoes, handbags, and beauty products have weathered the financial storm particularly well. At the end of August, French cosmetics company L’Oréal reported higher than expected profits of €1.37bn for H1 2009. In June, Hermès revealed it was farming crocodiles in Australia to feed demand for its coveted £4000 Birkin bag. Around the same time, Mulberry announced that its handbag sales had recovered, climbing 21 percent in the first 10 weeks of the new financial year. Shoe supplier Kurt Geiger, which operates in upmarket department stores across the UK, also reported double-digit growth in profits for the first five months of the year.

Bain & Company predicts that trading in the developed markets will remain tough for the rest of the year, with growth of around 1 percent in 2010 before a slow recovery. However, despite the recession slowing the pace of development in emerging markets, Bain believes that, as a consequence of increasing personal wealth, growth in global GDP, and rising tourism in Russia, China, India and Brazil, spending will surge between 20 percent and 35 percent over the next five years. This is expected to aid the recovery of the luxury goods sector.

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Chinese High-End Consumers Reluctant To “Trade Down”

Those With A Taste For Luxury Goods In Emerging Markets Less Willing To Cut Back, HK Study Finds

While China has not remained unscathed by the global economic crisis, its luxury consumer market shows resilience in consumer confidence and willingness to shell out

While China has not remained unscathed by the global economic crisis, its luxury consumer market shows resilience in consumer confidence and willingness to shell out

One of the more surprising features of the global economic downturn, to some commentators, has been the relative health of the Asian consumer market throughout the crisis. Although developed markets like Japan and Korea have certainly been hit hard — as their high-tech and automotive export markets have declined substantially — emerging markets like Greater China and, to a lesser extent, India, where income gaps are still quite large and wealthy consumers have developed a taste for luxury goods are doing comparatively well.

This is not to say China hasn’t been hit by the slowdown — it has, as low-tech manufacturers and mass producers have, in many parts of the country, been forced to shut down or lay off thousands of workers. However, we are seeing that the specific class of Chinese luxury consumer is continuing to spend through the global recession, perhaps as a sort of badge of wealth, perhaps because these consumers just want to keep buying. There are plenty of theories why Chinese luxury consumers, unlike those in Japan and North America, aren’t waiting to buy their next handbag or car — however, one Hong Kong study in particular caught my eye:

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DeBeers Wooing Safe-Haven Investors – FT

Stock Fluctuations Lead Investors To Continue Searching For Diversity: Gold, Diamonds, Art, And Wine

Diamond and gold producers and contemporary art and wine auction houses are increasingly targeting Chinese investors and sovereign wealth funds

Diamond and gold producers and contemporary art and wine auction houses are increasingly targeting Chinese investors and sovereign wealth funds

Today’s Financial Times has a feature on investors who are turning to traditional hedges against stock market turbulence, and the way major diamond producers like DeBeers are ratcheting up their marketing and outreach efforts to get these people’s attention. Although diamonds fell mainly out of favor in recent years in many developed countries due to their sometimes controversial nature, diamond consortia have seen their fortunes turn around rapidly as they increased their foothold in emerging markets like Russia and China.

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Outlook for Luxury Goods Rough…Outside of China

Luxury Brands Relying On Demand From BRIC Countries To Get Them Through Economic Crisis

The economic crisis hasn't dimmed the hopes of Dunhill's China Managing Director Jonathan Seliger for the brand's viability in the Chinese market. Photo © Mick Ryan.

The economic crisis hasn't dimmed the hopes of Dunhill's China Managing Director Jonathan Seliger for the brand's viability in the Chinese market. Photo © Mick Ryan.

The growing economic clout of the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, China, and India – continues to buoy luxury brands, helping to counteract the drop in demand from more established global markets. As luxury brands report their earnings from the first four months of 2009, we can clearly see that the plummeting demand in North America, Europe, and Japan has been somewhat devastating.

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Emerging Economies Still “Bitten By the Luxe Bug”: Financial Express

Asia Accounts For Largest Share Of World’s Luxury Market, Even As Global Financial Conditions Remain Grim

The Financial Express writes on the $80 billion global luxury market, which has fallen on hard times in the last year in most markets, yet continues to perform admirably in emerging economies and in East Asia. As the financial crisis wears on, and target markets in developed countries hold back, luxury brands have adapted quickly. Rather than courting reluctant customers, luxury brands have refocused their attention more to the world’s most populous nations, China and India, as consumers with the means to purchase luxury products in these countries continue to do so even as the rest of the world hunkers down for what could be a protracted recession.

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