Western luxury money has been pouring into China at a rapid rate this fall.
In the last four weeks alone Richemont, the Swiss owner of brands like Cartier and the e-tailer Yoox Net-a-Porter, announced a joint venture with the Chinese online retail giant Alibaba in a bid to crack the online shopping market of a country now responsible for almost a third of all luxury sales worldwide.
Next, Condé Nast International unveiled plans for Vogue Hong Kong, the 26th global version of the fashion title with a print edition published in the traditional Chinese characters used in Hong Kong and a bilingual website, in Chinese and English. Then, in its latest earnings call, Ralph Lauren said it had opened 10 additional stores in mainland China in the last quarter, putting it on track to open more than 50 by the end of 2019. And Coach said it would stage its first runway show in China on Dec. 8, a blockbuster spectacle and after-party titled “Coach Lights Up Shanghai.”
随后，康泰纳仕国际集团(Condé Nast International)宣布了《Vogue》杂志香港版的出刊计划，以香港所使用的繁体中文出版这本时尚刊物的第26个版本，并推出一个中英双语网站。还有美国奢侈品集团拉夫·劳伦(Ralph Lauren)在最近一次电话会议上表示，上一个季度在中国大陆增开了10家门店，并希望以此为开端，到2019年末新增超过50家门店。时尚品牌蔻驰(Coach)也宣布12月8日举办在中国的首场时装秀，人气爆棚的夺目走秀及秀后派对被命名为“蔻驰点亮魔都”。
China’s great luxury promise appears to have the sector’s biggest power players well and truly in its thrall. But in the background, dark clouds have also been gathering.
A brewing trade war with the United States, the weakening renminbi and the sputtering growth of China’s economy in recent months all have executives on edge. During the fall Golden Week, a holiday period around the Oct. 1 National Day observance when many Chinese consumers splurge on travel and luxury goods, sales grew at the slowest pace since 2000, according to data from China’s Ministry of Commerce.
The painful luxury industry downturn that occurred worldwide between 2013 and 2016 in the wake of a Chinese government clampdown on corruption and a spate of terrorist attacks in Europe — ending years of soaring sales growth — is still fresh in the minds of many. Could a similar situation be about to unfold again?
An inflection point came in early October, at the end of Golden Week, when social media posts showing emptied shopping bags, luggage searches and snaking lines at airport customs checks suggested that the state was cracking down on the practice known as daigou, when Chinese travelers buy high-end merchandise on trips abroad and sell the items at a profit after they return home. Spooked that the appetite for luxury goods in China could tip into a rapid slump, investor jitters prompted a global market sell-off, largely hitting European players such as LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Kering, Richemont, Burberry and Prada. Companies in the United States, like Tapestry and Tiffany & Co., also felt the strain.
转折点是在10月初黄金周尾声时出现的，社交媒体上晒出了清空的购物袋、行李开箱受检和机场海关查验口排起长队，表明国家在打击所谓的代购，也就是中国游客在海外旅行中购买高端商品回国后转卖获利。投资者害怕中国对奢侈品的需求会急速下跌，紧张情绪引起全球资本市场抛售，沉重打击了路威酩轩集团(LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton)、开云集团(Kering)、历峰集团、博柏利(Burberry)和普拉达(Prada)等欧洲从业者。Tapestry和蒂芙尼(Tiffany & Co.)等美国公司也感到了焦虑。
Some brands have sounded notes of caution about the current and future state of Chinese consumer confidence.
“In the past few months I would say there has been a slowing down of consumption, and probably the Chinese consumer is becoming more careful in what he or she does,” said Ermenegildo Zegna, chief executive of the Italian men’s luxury house of the same name. “I am more cautious than three months ago. For next year, we are going to plan a conservative budget because there are many uncertainties in the air and you have to be realistic.”
LVMH, the world’s largest luxury company by sales and the owner of big-name brands like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Givenchy, acknowledged the customs crackdown in China alongside the risks of operating globally “in an uncertain geopolitical and monetary context,” pointing to Louis Vuitton’s slightly weaker sales to Chinese shoppers in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Kering, which reported a total third quarter revenue rise of 27 percent, to 3.4 billion euros (more than $3.8 billion), and a China revenue jump of 30 percent in the first half of 2018, has still seen a fifth of its share price wiped out since June on fears of a Chinese consumption contraction. According to RBC Capital Markets, a global investment bank in Toronto, similar concerns have produced an average share price decline of 20 percent at luxury companies since mid-May.
世界销售额最大的奢侈品集团，拥有路易威登(Louis Vuitton)、迪奥(Christian Dior)和纪梵希(Givenchy)等著名品牌的路威酩轩承认，中国海关的打击加上“在不确定的地缘政治及货币环境中”进行全球运营的风险，造成了路易威登三季度对中国购买者的销售轻微走弱。与此同时，开云集团报称三季度整体利润增长27%至34亿欧元，中国市场的利润在2018年上半年跃升了30%，尽管如此，由于市场对中国消费萎缩的恐惧，其股价较之今年6月时还是跌去了近五分之一。据位于多伦多的全球性投资银行加拿大皇家银行投资市场公司(RBC Capital Markets)，类似的担忧使奢侈品公司的平均股价较之今年5月中下跌了20%。
So what will come next for a sector that Bain & Co. still predicts will grow by 6 to 8 percent, to €281 billion from €276 billion, this year? Given the money still being plowed into the region by brands and investors alike, could the stock market be overreacting?
贝恩咨询公司(Bain & Co.)仍预计本财年这一行业将增长6%到8%，从2760亿欧元增至2810亿欧元，那么这个行业接下来会发生什么？既然品牌和投资人们仍然在把钱投进来，股票市场是不是反应过度了呢？
“Clearly stocks were hit dramatically in past weeks, with investors keen to avoid being stung as they were in the last downturn,” said Erwan Rambourg, global co-head of consumer and retail research at HSBC. “However, it is possible that these macro fears are overextended and we can expect more of a soft landing.
“We believe the current ‘slowdown’ is more to do with being a period of normalization, after two years of phenomenal growth,” he added. “The sector decline will not be on as steep a slope as the market seems to expect.”
Thomas Chauvet, head of luxury goods equity research at Citigroup, concurred. He noted that many luxury brands had re-evaluated their expansion strategies in China in recent years, particularly around retail networks, targeted digital marketing and pricing, so their business — and bottom lines — are better protected in the event of another cyclical downturn.
He also added that luxury’s latest bull run had not been wholly dependent on Chinese spending: The American market has improved significantly in the last year, while many brands have posted double-digit sales growth in both Europe and Japan.
“Clearly China has been the white-hot engine for luxury growth lately — but this is also a global story, and price harmonization across markets is better than it was a few years ago,” Mr. Chauvet said. “The central question now should be whether international demand drivers are still in place to support a healthy level of sales and earnings growth over the next 12 months as China moderates.”
However, some market observers have highlighted positive consumer trends in China. As the country looks for ways to shore up its domestic economy, the government crackdown on daigou and the lowering of import duties this summer to encourage consumers to make purchases at home rather than chasing lower prices abroad are likely to make their mark, according to Angela Wang, a partner at the Boston Consulting Group and co-author, with the Chinese investment holding conglomerate Tencent, of a recently published study on China’s luxury market. She said that, although Chinese customers now are responsible for 32 percent of luxury goods sales worldwide, that number is still expected to grow to 40 percent by 2024 and power 75 percent growth of the global market. Unsurprisingly, millennials — particularly educated women — will be the driving force.
然而某些市场观察者更看重中国消费者的利好趋势。根据波士顿咨询集团(Boston Consulting Group)合伙人王佳茜(Angela Wang)与中国的投资控股集团腾讯近日合作发布的一份中国奢侈品市场研究报告，由于中国正设法提振国内经济，政府打击代购，并在今年夏天降低进口关税以鼓励消费者在国内完成购买，而不是到国外去寻求更低的价格，这些措施很可能收到成效。王佳茜表示，虽然中国消费者已经贡献了全球奢侈品销售额的32%，到2024年这个数字仍可望增长到40%，并在全球市场增长当中占到75%。不意外的是，千禧一代——尤其是受过良好教育的女性——将成为这一增长的驱动力。
“Luxury shoppers in China have an average age of 28, a majority have college degrees and are far better educated than their parents,” Ms. Wang said, noting that more than 50 percent of luxury customers now lived in second- and third-tier cities like Tianjin and Dalian, bolstering the importance of online platforms as there are few premium malls in those locations.
“Social shopping is now 11 percent of total luxury commerce in China and growing at a tremendous rate,” she added. “All this momentum won’t disappear in the wake of the recent slowdown.”
The fact that many major players have continued to double down on their presence in China despite the recent uncertainty suggests that long-term opportunities will continue to trump short-term volatility. Richemont’s deal with Alibaba will allow sites like Net-a-Porter to begin business on Luxury Pavilion, an invitation-only luxury platform on Alibaba’s Tmall site — even as many Western brands are continuing to be cautious in their embrace of Chinese e-commerce and alliances with local internet platforms, primarily because of fears of counterfeiting and the risk of diluting the exclusivity of their products. Also, the action follows an investment last year by JD.com, Alibaba’s rival, in the luxury online marketplace Farfetch.
“Our digital offering in China is in its infancy,” said Johann Rupert, Richemont’s chairman, “and we believe that partnering with Alibaba will enable us to become a significant and sustainable online player in this market.”
Western companies are not the only ones looking farther afield to secure growth prospects.
Despite the vast market on their doorsteps, a handful of Chinese luxury investors have been exploring a new market of their own in search of greater returns: Europe. This year, Shandong Ruyi bought the Swiss leather brand Bally while Fosun acquired the French fashion house Lanvin, both moves devised to reap profits from their countrymen’s appetite for luxury marques that otherwise would go into the pockets of Western companies.
And for all the jitters around Golden Week, Singles Day — the annual one-day shopping festival founded by Alibaba as a time for Chinese consumers to celebrate being single — smashed all records Nov. 11 to become the biggest sales event in history. A record $30.8 billion in sales were made in 24 hours, a 27 percent increase on the total last year. Looking forward, the company said, expectations are that those figures will continue to rise.
The day after the event, Michael Evans, president of Alibaba Group, talked about it at The New York Times International Luxury Conference, held in Hong Kong: “Part of the reason we invest so much into the infrastructure of Singles Day — a day where we delivered over one billion packages in 24 hours this year — is because we believe a time will come when we will be operating at that scale every single day.”
Now, eyes are turned to see how consumer desire for high-ticket handbags, ready-to-wear and sneakers — as well as lower-priced items such as cosmetics and fragrances — will fare during the important fourth quarter of the retail calendar.
“To say that the luxury sector is entering another perfect storm would be too aggressive,” said Mr. Chauvet, of Citigroup. “Then again, when consumers don’t feel a sense of optimism or feel worried about the world around them, luxury purchases are often the first to go. For now, the industry mode has got to be ‘wait and see.’”