Share Watch: Rich pickings made from catering to the wealthy
The great English artist and designer William Morris once complained: "I spend my life ministering to the luxury of the rich."
Of course Morris wasn't the first to recognise that, like it or not, the rich are different and pandering to their taste can spread the dosh around a bit more evenly.
Indeed all the statistics has shown convincingly, that since the latest recession started eight years ago, the rich have made vastly greater strides than the poor. This is sweet music to the ears of companies like the one we are analysing today, Compagnie Financiere Richemont.
This Swiss-based outfit is the world's second largest luxury goods company. It is organised around jewellery, watches and writing pens, with names like Cartier and Arpels and Mont Blanc, along with other knickknacks that the wealthy like to show off to prove they indeed are 'different.' Richemont, for instance, has among its portfolio of luxury goods, a shotgun, the Purdey, that no self-respecting grouse-shooter would be without.
There has been a determined effort in the last few decades by clear-thinking corporates to part the well-off from their cash. Richemont had its origins as part of the South African conglomerate Rembrandt that up to the late 1980s was content to control Rothmans tobacco, as well as having a fist or two in gold and diamond mines.
In 1988 it showed its faith in the spending power of the wealthy by spinning off Richemont as its high end, high quality and high priced luxury goods operation. Today Richemont trades on the Swiss Stock Exchange, is valued at €46bn and employs 30,000 people worldwide.
Richemont is one of three companies that account for two-thirds of the world's branded jewellery market, the others being Tiffany and LMVH. Jewellery is the company's largest business generating half of group sales and over two-thirds of the profits.
Allowing for the challenges facing luxury goods companies (including a Chinese clampdown on conspicuous consumption), jewellery appears to have withstood the difficulties better. The Richemont brands like Cartier and Van Cleef are legends in quality jewellery and watches. Specialist watches is the company's second largest business, with 28pc of group sales. It has an impressive range with brands like Jaeger, Piaget and Baume, Panerai and Lange and Shone.
If the brands are impressive so too are the prices.
The Asia-Pacific region is important for the group, generating sales of €4.2bn. China accounts for half of the regions sales. However as the luxury market slows in China, the company has decided to focus on other parts of Asia. It is planning a fourth outlet in South Korea, second outlets in Singapore and Vietnam and franchises in Australia and Thailand. This will bring its total outlets in Asia to 30, with half in China. The economic recovery in Europe helped Richemont sales with an increase of 10pc to €3.9bn. Interestingly sales in France (with its socialist President) are the same as Germany, Italy and Spain combined! Read what you may into that.
The US accounts for 80pc of Americas sales, making it the second largest market for Richemont after China but with only half of its sales.
Japan remains static at €1bn in sales.
The Richemont shares reached a high of €94 this year, the highest in the last ten years. Currently trading in the mid €80s with a lofty price to earnings of 26.
The company has a strong balance sheet and is highly cash generative. Its foreign exchange environment is complicated with a strong dollar and Swiss franc and a weak euro. However as 60pc of its sales are dollar-related the company should benefit.
Any weakness or volatility in its share price could be an attractive entry point for investors. The question constantly asked by investors of luxury goods companies is their ability to cope with online retailing.
Richemont has been hedging its bets and recently secured a 50pc stake in online retail giant Yoox Net-a-Porter after the Italian firm bought Net-a-Porter earlier this year.
Nothing in this section should be taken as a recommendation, either explicit or implicit to buy any of the shares mentioned.