Future Returns: Investing in the Global Luxury Industry
Why putting your money in luxury makes sense.
Why putting your money in luxury makes sense.
The global luxury industry has had a good run over much of the past decade and signs are pointing to continued strength despite a difficult stretch during the pandemic.
S&P’s Global Luxury Index has beaten the MSCI All Country World Index over the past five years by about 4.3%. It’s been a hotbed for M&A activity, including LVMH’s recent US$15.8 billion acquisition of Tiffany & Co. The sector has proven popular with investors from individuals through to private equity—a pre-pandemic Deloitte survey found 70% of respondents, most of whom were small-medium private equity funds were considering investing in a fashion and luxury asset.
Jessica Gerberi says structural growth themes in the industry have turned luxury stocks from a cyclical to secular growth opportunity.
Gerberi, a senior research analyst with Calamos Investments in Naperville, Ill., was positive on the industry before the pandemic, partly based on the resilience of luxury goods companies, some a century or two old. “Their resilience was just tested in such an unprecedented way with Covid, and Covid’s really been an accelerant for positive change in this industry,” she says.
Bain & Co. finds despite a contraction in the overall global luxury industry due to the pandemic, global online luxury sales grew almost 50%, to about US$59 billion, in 2020, compared to about US$39.7 the prior year. This sales channel is forecast to grow further, from an estimated 23% last year to more than 30% by 2025. Gerberi says the industry may not see a full recovery until 2022 or 2023, but the speedy adaptation to selling online undertaken by many companies offers a compelling reason to consider investing in luxury stocks.
“The strong getting stronger will likely continue to be a theme in this industry,” she says.
Besides the anticipated post-pandemic rebound, growth in emerging markets offers another compelling reason for the sector’s strength. One estimate anticipates the global middle class ballooning to 5.3 billion people by 2030, bringing about 2 billion up the economic ladder. This group is expected to splurge on luxury items, and the industry will reap the reward, particularly in China.
Due to these developments, Gerberi says in a post-Covid, normalized environment there could even be some upside to the industry’s approximate 5% annual growth rate. She shared three tips with Penta on how to invest in the global luxury industry.
Understand Different Exposures
Not all luxury stocks are equally exposed to different elements. For instance, some companies focus on a single brand while others have what Gerberi calls “natural diversification,” meaning multiple brands or that they operate in multiple categories.
“Some of these big luxury conglomerates have built their businesses upon M&A and acquiring new brands, which I think speaks to their ability to balance growing the equity and managing the heritage of their legacy brands,” she says. “But [they are] also keeping on top of current trends and being willing to take a risk on a brand that might not be fully in their wheelhouse.”
She mentions Moncler’s US$1.4 billion acquisition of Stone Island, which brought the down jacket maker together with a streetwear brand. Gerberi says these moves allow companies to tap into certain trends or companies growing at a faster rate than the overall luxury industry.
Geographical exposure comes into play as well. Much of the industry is listed in Europe rather than the U.S., for instance. And though the customer base is often considered from North American or European vantage points, luxury companies serve a diverse, global base of consumers beyond those regions. This means they’re impacted by much broader, global trends.
Embracing Digital Evolution
“Covid really accelerated the digital strategies that companies in the industry are pursuing,” Gerberi says. “And of course they came into the pandemic in varying degrees of development.” This follows other accelerations in online retail, which observers say advanced e-commerce sales and technology by several years during the pandemic.
This evolution is about more than simply having a robust e-commerce site, offering products for sale via third party or increasing the depth and breadth originally offered online. Gerberi says luxury brands have created new digital avenues to engage with their customers and build customer relationships including special sales events, setting up virtual showrooms—even biometric scanning to offer virtual beauty trials.
Investors should watch how companies have embraced this shift, as not all companies have seized the chance to innovate their digital platforms and complement their in-person shopping experiences. “That gap between the haves and have nots has widened,” Gerberi says.
China’s Growing Consumption
The growth of emerging market middle classes is a promising tailwind for luxury goods, Gerberi says. “But in the near term it likely wouldn’t be anywhere as meaningful as the continued growth of the Chinese consumer in this industry.”
In 2019, the Chinese consumer accounted for 35% of global luxury sales. That figure is estimated to rise to 50% by 2025. This may pose attractive investment opportunities in brands with less-established presences in China, offering room to expand their customer base there. Though China-based luxury brands are emerging, globally-recognised brands are expected to be the main driver of this consumption.
Gerberi expects “a good pipeline for luxury consumption” to continue, as China’s Gen Z population ages and gains more disposable income.
Factors like relatively quick economic bounce back from Covid, unemployment returning to pre-Covid levels, and a continued strong appetite for luxury goods bode well for continued sales growth. “All of those things continue to bode well for the outlook for the Chinese consumer with regards to luxury,” she says.
Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.
Private club memberships and luxury cars are some of freebies on the table.
When Ryan Wolitzer was looking to buy an apartment in Miami Beach late last year, several beachfront properties caught his eye. All were two-bedroom homes in high-end buildings with amenities aplenty and featured glass walls, high ceilings and an abundance of natural light. But only The Continuum, in the city’s South of Fifth district, came with a gift: a membership to Residence Yacht Club, a private club that offers excursions on luxury yachts ranging from a day in south Florida to a month around the Caribbean. Residents receive heavily discounted charters on upscale boats that have premier finishes and are stocked with top shelf spirits and wine. Mr. Wolitzer, 25, who works for a sports agency, was sold.
“The access to high-end yachts swayed my decision to buy at The Continuum and is an incentive that I take full advantage of,” Mr. Wolitzer said. “It’s huge, especially in my business when I am dealing with high-profile sports players, to be able to give them access to these incredible boats where they experience great service. I know that they’ll be well taken care of.”
Freebies and perks for homeowners such as a private club membership are a mainstay in the world of luxury real estate and intended to entice prospective buyers to sign on the dotted line.
According to Jonathan Miller, the president and chief executive of the real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel, they’re primarily a domestic phenomenon.
In the U.S. residential real estate market, gifts are offered by both developers who want to move apartments in their swanky buildings and individuals selling their homes. They range from modest to over-the-top, Mr. Miller said, and are more prevalent when the market is soft.
“When sales lag, freebies increase in a bid to incentivize buyers,” he said. “These days, sales are slowing, and inventory is rising after two years of being the opposite, which suggests that we may see more of them going forward.”
Many of these extras are especially present in South Florida, Mr. Miller said, where the market is normalizing after the unprecedented boom it saw during the pandemic. “The frenzy in South Florida was intense compared with the rest of the country because it became a place where people wanted to live full time,” he said. “Now that the numbers are inching toward pre-pandemic levels, freebies could push wavering buyers over the finish line.”
Kelly Killoren Bensimon, a real estate salesperson for Douglas Elliman in Miami and New York, said that the gifts that she has encountered in her business include everything from yacht access and use of a summer house to magnums of pricey wine. “One person I know of who was selling a US$5 million house in the Hamptons even threw in a free Mercedes 280SL,” she said. “They didn’t want to lower the price but were happy to sweeten the deal.”
A car, an Aston Martin to be exact, is also a lure at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Buyers who bought one of the building’s 01 line apartments—a collection of 47 ocean-facing residences ranging in size from 325 to 362sqm and US$8.3 million to US$9 million in price—had their choice of the DBX Miami Riverwalk Special Edition or the DB11 Miami Riverwalk Special Edition. The DBX is Aston Martin’s first SUV and retails for around US$200,000. It may have helped propel sales given that all the apartments are sold out.
The US$59 million triplex penthouse, meanwhile, is still up for grabs, and the buyer will receive a US$3.2 million Aston Martin Vulcan track-only sports car, one of only 24 ever made.
“We want to give homeowners the chance to live the full Aston Martin lifestyle, and owning a beautiful Aston Martin is definitely a highlight of that,” said Alejandro Aljanti, the chief marketing officer for G&G Business Developments, the building’s developer. “We wanted to include the cars as part of the package for our more exclusive units.”
The US$800,000 furniture budget for buyers of the North Tower condominiums at The Estates at Acqualina in Sunny Isles, Florida, is another recent head-turning perk. The 94 residences sold out last year, according to president of sales Michael Goldstein, and had a starting price of US$6.3 million. “You can pick the furniture ahead of time, and when buyers move in later this year, all they’ll need is a toothbrush,” he said.
Then there’s the US$2 million art collection that was included in the sale of the penthouse residence at the Four Seasons Residences in Miami’s Brickell neighbourhood. The property recently sold for $15.9 million and spans 817sqm feet. Designed by the renowned firm ODP Architects, it features contemporary paintings and sculpture pieces from notable names such as the American conceptual artist Bill Beckley and the sculptor Tom Brewitz.
But it’s hard to top the millions of dollars of extras that were attached to the asking price in 2019 of the US$85 million 1393sqm duplex at the Atelier, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood. The list included two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a Lamborghini Aventador, a US$1 million yacht with five years of docking fees, a summer stay at a Hamptons mansion, weekly dinners for two at lavish French restaurant Daniel and a live-in butler and private chef for a year. And the most outrageous of all: a flight for two to space.
It turned out that the so-called duplex was actually a collection of several apartments and a listing that went unsold. It did, however, generate plenty of buzz among the press and in real estate circles and was a marketing success, according to Mr. Miller.
“A listing like this that almost seems unbelievable with all the gifts will get plenty of eyeballs but is unlikely to push sales,” he said. “Empirically, it’s not an effective tactic.”
On the other hand, Mr. Miller said that more reasonable but still generous freebies, such as the membership to a yacht club, have the potential to push undecided buyers to go for the sale. “A nice but not too lavish gift won’t be the singular thing toward their decision but can be a big factor,” he said. “It’s a feel-good incentive that buyers think they’re getting without an extra cost.”
Examples of these bonuses include a membership to the 1 Hotel South Beach private beach club that buyers receive with the purchase of a residence at Baccarat Residences Brickell, or the one-year membership to the Grand Bay Beach Club in Key Biscayne for those who spring for a home at Casa Bella Residences by B&B Italia, located in downtown Miami and a residential project from the namesake renowned Italian furniture brand. The price of a membership at the Grand Bay Beach Club is usually a US$19,500 initiation fee and US$415 in monthly dues.
Still enticing but less expensive perks include the two-hour cruise around New York on a wooden Hemmingway boat, valued at US$1,900, for buyers at Quay Tower, at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. The building’s developer, Robert Levine, said that he started offering the boat trip in July to help sell the remaining units. “We’re close to 70% sold, but, of course, I want everything to go,” he said.
There’s also the US$1,635 Avalon throw blanket from Hermes for those who close on a unit at Ten30 South Beach, a 33-unit boutique condominium; in Manhattan’s Financial District, a custom piece of art from the acclaimed artist James Perkins is gifted to buyers at Jolie, a 42-story building on Greenwich Street. Perkins said the value of the piece depends on the home purchase price, but the minimum is US$4,000. “The higher end homes get a more sizable work,” he said.
When gifts are part of a total real estate package, the sale can become emotional and personal, according to Chad Carroll, a real estate agent with Compass in South Florida and the founder of The Carroll Group. “If the freebie appeals to the buyer, the transaction takes on a different dynamic,” he said. “A gift becomes the kicker that they love the idea of having.”
Speaking from his own experience, Mr. Carroll said that sellers can also have an emotional connection to the exchange. “I was selling my house in Golden Isles last year for US$5.4 million and included my jet ski and paddle boards,” he said. “The buyers were a family with young kids and absolutely loved the water toys.” Mr. Carroll could have held out for a higher bidder, he said, but decided to accept their offer. “I liked them and wanted them to create the same happy memories in the home that I did,” he said.
The family moved in a few months later.