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Finding opportunity in times of turmoil

Richemont set to add shine to portfolios.
Image: Olaf Tamm

Richemont is a high quality, globally diversified hard luxury business that owns some of the world’s most desirable and enduring heritage brands. These brands have legacies that span centuries and cannot be easily replicated, which raises the barriers to entry for competitors and provides a significant level of protection from technological disruption. The aspirational nature of its enviable brand portfolio affords Richemont significant pricing power and allows it to enjoy healthy margins over time.

Richemont’s earnings are extremely high quality, denominated mainly in developed market currencies (largely euros and US dollars) and are supported by cash (10-year free cash flow conversion of approximately 90%). It boasts a fortress balance sheet (approximately 8% of market capitalisation comprises net cash) and a stable ownership structure that ensures that the business is managed for the long term.

Unrivalled heritage

The global jewellery market is highly fragmented, with the market share of branded jewellery estimated to be around 25%. Branded jewellery is expected to continue to gain share as considerations such as authenticity, sustainability, store of value and display of status become increasingly important for consumers.

Richemont is extremely well-positioned to benefit from these structural tailwinds by being the largest player and owning the best-branded jewellery portfolio, which includes key brands such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. These brands have unrivalled heritage and are highly desired by consumers, boasting the top three most sold jewellery lines in the world, namely Love and Trinity by Cartier and Alhambra by Van Cleef & Arpels. This lays the foundation for multi-year earnings growth.

Richemont has a healthy exposure to emerging markets (approximately 58% of group revenue) with aspirational consumers that have a high affinity for luxury goods. It offers investors good exposure to the Chinese consumer with approximately 40% of sales generated from Chinese consumers, either in Mainland China or from Chinese tourists travelling abroad. Sales to Chinese consumers are expected to grow given the region’s cultural affinity for branded luxury products, and as wealth levels continue to improve as the Chinese economy transitions from being infrastructure-led to one driven by services and consumption.

Brand equity is serious business

The luxury watch market is very consolidated (the top three players have a revenue market share of approximately 70%), a lot more competitive and does not have the same structural tailwinds of the global jewellery market. It has proven to be more cyclical over time. The luxury watch market experienced a ‘super cycle’ between 2004 and 2014 driven by Chinese corporate gifting which benefited all luxury goods players, including Richemont, with nearly five out of every 10 luxury watches sold to Chinese consumers. This artificial demand inflated luxury watch sales by roughly 20%. When Xi Jinping became president in late 2013, he implemented a clampdown on corruption. This saw a sharp fall-off in the demand for gifting beneficiaries such as watches and expensive spirits like cognac.

The result was a painful reset for the earnings of Richemont’s Specialist Watchmakers division. Richemont has been proactive by buying back excess stock from the wholesale channel to prevent discounting, thereby protecting brand equity. Supply chain disruptions at competitors, coupled with strong consumer demand and tight cost control, have resulted in recently reported earnings recovering to above pre-pandemic levels and operating margins approaching previous peaks.

Offsetting the positives of the investment case is the uncertainty around the turnaround of Richemont’s fashion and accessories business as well as its omnichannel strategy, which comprises its investment in Yoox Net-A-Porter (YNAP) and the partnerships with Alibaba and Farfetch. Both have been loss-making and remain a drag on group earnings. Richemont has recognised the importance of online retail well ahead of its peers and discussions with Farfetch are well-advanced to create a neutral online platform for luxury groups to expand their reach beyond that of physical stores. If concluded successfully, this will eliminate losses.

The positive attributes of the Richemont investment case are well-known and the market rewarded the company, and other listed luxury peers such as LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE), Kering and Hermès, by ascribing a high price-earnings multiple in valuing it. Richemont was a company we always wanted to own on behalf of our clients, but at the right price. After all, the best company can be a poor investment if one overpays. While the strong earnings prospects of Richemont remain unchanged given the structural tailwinds benefiting the company, it has de-rated significantly in recent years. This is on the back of several concerns, including the adverse impact of the ongoing hard lockdown in China, current geopolitical tensions and the impact on consumers’ propensity to spend on luxury goods (i.e. loss of the ‘feel-good’ factor), and rising interest rates – given the high price-earnings multiples of luxury goods companies.

Looking ahead

Richemont now trades on a one-year price-earnings multiple, stripping out the net cash and excluding YNAP losses, of just under 17 times. This is extremely attractive for a global business of high quality and where we expect earnings to grow strongly for many years.

Quinton Ivan, head of SA Equity Research at Coronation.

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