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Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, attends a news conference to present the 2022 annual results of LVMH in Paris, France, January 26, 2023.
Gonzalo Fuentes | Reuters

Luxury giant LVMH said China’s wealthy consumers have started returning to stores after the country’s reopening and it remains optimistic about the year ahead.

“We have every reason to be confident, indeed optimistic on China,” LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault said during the company’s earnings presentation. “In Macao, where the Chinese can now travel, the change is quite spectacular. The stores are full and it’s really come back very strong.”

Arnault added that if the “green shoots” the company sees in China continue to grow, “it will be an excellent year.”

LVMH reported its second straight year of record sales and profits, with 2022 revenue up 23% to 79.2 billion euros, or about $86.2 billion. Profits grew 17% to 14 billion euros, or about $15.2 billion.

The return of the Chinese luxury consumer is the key question for the global luxury industry in 2023, as the U.S. and European economies slow. Shares of LVMH, Richemont, Kering and other big luxury names have soared this month on hopes for a rapid bounce back in China’s luxury spending, which accounted for a third of all luxury sales before the pandemic shifted consumer spending habits.

LVMH Chief Financial Officer Jean-Jacques Guiony cautioned that while the rebound has been strong in January, “we’re not back to the levels of 2019. We’re a long way from that.”

Yet LVMH’s cautious optimism echoes positive comments earlier this month from Burberry and Swatch.

Burberry cited “very promising signs in China” after a difficult December, while Swatch said its “sales growth in January in China reinforces the Group’s expectation to aim for a record year in 2023.”

Some analysts say China’s reopening could mark a “big bang” moment for luxury — driving sales in the country as well as in Europe, as Chinese tourists return to Paris, Milan and London this summer and shop for luxury goods.

“If they resume travel and they head for the countries that attract them, they will probably come to France, and we are ready to receive them,” Arnault said.

Bain & Co estimates that global luxury sales grew 22% in 2022, to over $380 billion, with the U.S. replacing China as the top market. Even if China rebounds, growth in luxury sales is likely to be slower this year. Bain estimates global sales could grow between 3% and 8% in 2023, depending on China’s reopening and the U.S.

There are already signs that the U.S. market is slowing. LVMH said revenue grew 7% in the U.S. during the fourth quarter, a sharp deceleration from growth of 26% and 22% in the first two quarters of the year.

Guiony, however, said the declines are largely due to favorable comparisons in the first two quarters and the surge in Americans taking advantage of a strong dollar to buy luxury goods in Europe over the summer. He said sales at Sephora — the beauty retailer owned by LVMH — showed no signs of consumer weakness in the U.S. and had “high growth in the fourth quarter.”

“We’re not concerned,” Guiony said.

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