Another argument for building brands

A year ago, the Wall Street Journal was telling us that wealthy consumers were suffering from ‘luxury shame’. Others were talking about the end of the luxury business. Certainly, the luxury business took a massive hit when the sub prime crisis blew up and the repercussions were still being felt at the end of 2009 when many luxury manufacturers and retailers reported poor sales over the traditionally lucrative Christmas and New Year period.

But even a global financial meltdown doesn’t seem to be able to keep the wealthy out of the stores for long as the luxury industry outperformed the MSCI World Index over 1Q 2010. And unsurprisingly, the wealthy don’t head for the department store to save pennies on same store brands.

So what brands are people, sorry the fabulously wealthy buying? Here’s a quick round up of the most popular brands at the mall or wherever it is the wealthy shop!

Last weekend, the Ferrari 599 GTO was officially unveiled at Modena’s Ducal Palace in Italy. This is the legendary brands fastest road car and does 0 – 100km/h in 3.35 seconds! Although a number of key clients were at the launch, all 599 units of the US$450,000 (RM1,500,000) monster have been sold.

Still with cars, top end ‘more affordable’ brands are also performing well, despite current figures reflecting the anniversary of the peak of the scrapping scheme in Europe. In Germany, car sales plummeted 26.6% last month, year-on-year, but Mercedes declined only 6.1 per cent, while BMW sales rose 9 per cent. During the same period in China Mercedes and BMW both increased their sales in 1Q 2010. Audi meanwhile was up a respectable 77%.

Here in Malaysia where cars are subject to astronomical taxes, BMW Malaysia sold 250 of the 7 Series from January 2009 to March 2010. With the cheapest 7 series costing around RM650,000 (US$200,000) and the top of the range 760Li costing RM1,400,000 (US$435,000), that’s impressive and shows the resilience of luxury automotive brands.

Down south in Singapore, Mercedes-Benz delivered 1,139 passenger cars in 1Q 2010, a 22.7% increase over the same period in 2009. Not to be outdone, BMW sold 960 units during the same period, a robust 29% increase over the same period.

Porsche meanwhile announced last week that orders for the latest version of the Cayenne SUV, due to arrive in European showrooms in May 2010 and priced at €56,000 (US$75,000) price tag, were ‘stronger than expected’.

Over in India, Porsche Design recently opened its first store in New Delhi, joining Prada, Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo and Mont Blanc to name a few luxury brand also taking up residence in the capital of the republic. Louis Vuitton now has 5 stores in the country.

LVMH, the company behind luxury brands such as Dior, Louis Vuitton and Moët Chandon recently reported a 11% increase in 1Q 2010 sales. Watches and jewellery sales rose by 33%, wines and spirits by 18% and fashion and leather goods by 8%. Sales of Dom Perignon and other LVMH owned champagnes shot up by 33% in the same period.

Watches and timepieces, there is a difference you know, are also having a bumper start to 2010 and the mood at Baselworld, the world’s largest watch and jewellery fair, was bullish after positive announcements from Bréguet, Blancpain, Omega and Longines whose sales were up 46%, 48%, 50% and 49% respectively in January and February 2010.

Meanwhile, due partly at least to the fact that it doesn’t have many high end high margin devices, Sony Ericsson has been plagued by declining sales for years and hasn’t made a net profit since 2Q 2008.

However the firm moved quickly to develop high end phones and launched the Xperia X10 and Vivaz last year. The result, the company reported a net profit for 1Q 2010 of €21 million, compared with a €293 million net loss a year earlier. Analysts were expecting a €128 million loss.

With the consultants, Bain & Co predicting luxury industry sales of €158bn in 2010, up 4% after a drop of 8% last year, it seems ‘luxury shame’ was nothing more than an itch!

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