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Is there the merest hint of urgency behind that veneer of calm? It would be no surprise if staff at luxury goods stores are becoming just a little more pushy than usual. The sector, which has for so long been used to seemingly effortless growth, is having a lousy year.
First quarter numbers from a variety of companies all had a similar theme. Sales growth was generally in the mid teens or above in the first quarter of 2012. That had sunk to mid to high single-digits this time around. Even Prada, which has been growing faster than its peers, is feeling the pinch. This week it reported that first-quarter growth had slowed from 48 per cent to 14 per cent.
Still, investors have remained unperturbed. In the past 12 months the Dow Jones Luxury Index has risen 30 per cent. PPR (soon, for some reason, to be renamed Kering) and Salvatore Ferragamo are up more than 40 per cent. So valuations in the sector remain steep. Handbag maker Mulberry is still on 24 times earnings despite reporting a 28 per cent drop in annual profits this week. Meanwhile Ferragamo is on 27, Prada is on 23 and LVMH and Burberry both trade on 17. With some exceptions, valuations are little different to where they were a year ago.
That suggests a fair degree of confidence that this year's slowdown – whether it is caused by the Chinese clampdown on ostentatious gifts, or the euro zone malaise – will be short lived. But the latest industry statistics suggest that the trends are still worsening. Last month Altagamma, an Italy-based industry group, cut its global forecasts for 2013. Last October it expected 10 per cent growth in shoes and handbags, for example, but that has been cut to 7 per cent. Forecasts for jewellery and clothes have also been reduced. Regionally, the sharpest slowdown is in Asia, where the forecast was cut from 17 per cent to 10 per cent.
Overall the luxury goods market is expected to grow by 4-5 per cent this year and 5-6 per cent in the following two years. Some retailers would love those sorts of growth rates. But luxury sector shares are still priced for far more than that.
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