Bulgari CEO says China's coronavirus crisis is 'hurting sales significantly'

Posted February 11, 2020 5:38 p.m. EST
Updated February 11, 2020 6:19 p.m. EST

— China's ongoing coronavirus epidemic has dealt a blow to the global luxury goods market, which experts say could hinder earnings throughout 2020.

Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin said the crisis hasn't changed his company's positive outlook on China, but he joined a growing list of retail chain executives who say the humanitarian disaster, which has killed more than 1,000 people worldwide and sickened some 40,000 more as of Tuesday, is having an outsized effect on companies' earnings.

Bulgari has 51 retail stores in the Greater Chinese Region. The LVMH-owned brand declined to specify how many stores it operates in Chinese malls, but said half of those stores have been closed in response to the outbreak.

"What's happening right now in China is limiting the growth of the [global luxury] industry," Babin told CNN Business on Thursday. "The fact ... that we're leaning on e-commerce only in China obviously is hurting the sales significantly. This is true for Bulgari, but it's true, I believe, for any brand."

Babin's remarks came at the end of New York fashion week last week amid the launch of Bulgari's latest B.Zero1 jewelry line, which was previewed at the company's Brooklyn launch party. Other international luxury brands have avoided saying publicly how coronavirus is affecting their bottom line, although they have publicized their humanitarian donations and pledges to help combat the disease.

Gucci, Cartier, and other top high-end retailers contacted by CNN Business either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

Tiffany & Co., which is being acquired by LVMH, confirmed it has closed several stores in affected areas in China, but wouldn't say how the situation has affected its global sales.

"We will not be making any further disclosures regarding business impact until our Q4 results are released on March 20," a Tiffany spokesperson said via email.

Bulgari's parent company, LVMH, enjoyed its best-ever sales year in 2019, in large part thanks to the Chinese market, according to Babin.

China's economy alone makes up 16% of global GDP, but it has an outsized impact on the world's luxury goods sector, comprising roughly a third of the industry's global sales, according to a report released Monday by Cowen Equity Research.

"Luxury companies may be most materially affected" by the coronavirus, leading to a short term reduction in earnings per share for investors, the researchers wrote.

Luxury companies with sales exposure of 6% to 20% in China could see their earnings per share diluted by 1% to 8% if the outbreak is contained by mid-2020. An additional EPS dillution of 1% to 2% can be expected for every month the crisis persists beyond then, the study said.

Oliver Chen, one of the study's authors, noted that there is a marked decline in foreign tourists traveling to China as well as fewer Chinese tourists purchasing luxury goods in other countries.

"Most of the time in retail, when consumers don't make purchases, it means you have a lot of pent-up demand, but in the luxury sector, you just lose the sale," Chen told CNN Business. "It's not high on people's priority list to buy luxury goods when you're prioritizing health and human safety."

"The risk factors could persist into May, June, July or longer," Chen added.

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