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Edited Transcript of MC.PA earnings conference call or presentation 28-Jan-20 5:00pm GMT

Full Year 2019 LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE Earnings Call

Paris Feb 12, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE earnings conference call or presentation Tuesday, January 28, 2020 at 5:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Bernard Arnault

LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - Chairman & CEO

* Jean-Jacques Guiony

LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - CFO

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Conference Call Participants

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* Antoine Belge

HSBC, Research Division - Global of Consumer and Retail Research

* Edouard Aubin

Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Head of Luxury Goods

* Luca Giuseppe Solca

Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., LLC., Research Division - Research Analyst

* Zuzanna Pusz

UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Head of European Luxury Equity Research

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Presentation

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Bernard Arnault, LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - Chairman & CEO [1]

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Good evening to you all. I'm delighted to welcome you here to talk about the results for 2019 and a word about the outlook for 2020. 2019, you'll say that I'm perhaps repeating myself, but it's another record year, thanks to the team here. I'd like to immediately congratulate. We have managed to deliver a record in terms of figures. There are many analysts here interested in the figures, record in terms of revenue, up 15%. We've topped EUR 50 billion record in profit from recurring operations, EUR 11.5 billion profit from recurring operations. Very healthy financial situation, sharp improvement in free cash flow, and we've even managed to preserve a gearing of the order of 16%, the ratio between net debt and equity, in spite of a number of investments, including the investment in Belmond this year. And so 2019 in terms of figures is an excellent here.

Now if we explain that through the details of our business groups. Let's start with Wines & Spirits that also delivered an excellent year marked by the sustained growth in Champagne, notably the most prestigious Champagne, the vintage cuvées, Dom Pérignon, (inaudible) the grande dame that all cuvées that expanded strongly, and the sales limitation stems from the limitation on available quantities.

On spirits. Hennessy is going from record to record because this year, once again, we've extensively exceeded the quantities. So last year, let me remind you that now Hennessy has become the #1 premium spirit in the world that continues to grow. I'd like to thank Mr. Bernard Peillon, Chief Executive, for everything he's contributed to the business and acknowledge his successor from the group, Mr. Laurent Boillot.

Many events marked the growth of Wines & Spirits this year. Just an example, the inauguration in the spring of the Château d'Esclans in the Champagne region that's become a symbol for all our customers worldwide for all our partners and that we have restored, and it henceforth represents a good business and really epitomizes the spirit of our Champagne houses, notably Moët & Chandon in the region.

Turning now to Fashion & Leather Goods, beginning with Louis Vuitton that has also achieved considerable success this year. Many new products, very successful collections. Nicolas Ghesquière organized many shows, including the (inaudible) show in New York. And during those shows, we presented a whole set of new leather goods, products and accessories supervised by Delphine that all met with considerable success. I have to say that Vuitton continues to be by far and away the world's #1 luxury brand. And there, we have, but that's -- deliberately, we have production issues, because we open a new workshop in France, a new workshop in the United States, and that's not enough to meet the extensive demand for our products. But that doesn't really matter because we've got good growth, and we'll be able to concentrate on the new products.

And the new Vuitton Maisons, we've opened a certain number this year. Just like to flag the outstanding Maisons that we opened in Seoul at the end of 2019 with an iconic building. I don't know if you have a photograph, perhaps not, by Frank Gehry. It's an absolutely outstanding building. And since the Maison was opened, it was already a Maison Vuitton in the past, but sales have increased significantly.

Vuitton continues to go from strength to strength with a focus on quality because Vuitton products reputed to be of the finest quality in the world. And our customers appreciate that Virgil Abloh, the men's lines in full year in our stores this year, met with considerable success.

Second fashion brand, Christian Dior, which also met with considerable success. Many shows that in London was an historic success with over 600,000 visitors. Many new locations. The store opened this year with Pietro on the Champs-Elysées temporary during the renovation of the historic Maison close by on Avenue Montaigne. Two exceptional designers, Kim Jones and Maria Grazia for women's line that are both very successful. No need to dwell on that. What you're interested this evening, the figures, they're excellent, and that will continue given the collections that planned, all the ancillary products that are being designed and the distribution throughout the world with substantial growth rates.

Other Maisons, Fendi, but unfortunately, mourn the passing of its historic designer, Karl Lagerfeld. There were a number of tributes to him, one runway show in Rome in front of the coliseum with a high fashion and fur collection that met with wide acclaim, and this iconic Italian brand continues to grow.

And the other brands of the fashion group. Loewe with J.W. Anderson, a very talented designer with whom we've been working for many years now and allowed us with Loewe to develop stores throughout the world whose success is growing year after year and now achieving remarkable growth rates. Similarly, Berluti, that's also faring very well with high-quality men's products, Loro Piana and of course, Rimowa that is also achieving remarkable growth rates since we acquired it.

That's for Fashion & Leather Goods. Perfumes & Cosmetics also delivered very good growth, 9%, significantly above the cosmetics markets. You saw the results are not growing in the same way. It's not due to the iconic brands such as Dior, Guerlain or Givenchy that are growing very well, both in revenue and profit. But as Jean-Jacques Guiony will tell you that a charge booked on certain small American brands that is impacting the profit.

Christian Dior delivered great performance. The Eau Sauvage fragrance is the leading men's fragrance in the world. That's noting. And the Rouge lipstick from Dior is also the world's #1 lipstick. We're selling one lipstick every second in the world. That's quite impressive. Great product. Not to mention the other products that have just been launched, care products, rose oil, Total Capture with a serum for the ladies. I urge you to give it a try. It's absolutely outstanding. I've tried it. I tell you that it works wonders.

Guerlain, too, great success based in part on care, skincare. We got great products there, particularly the Abeille Royale that is meeting with great success across developed countries. And Guerlain has always been highly focused on sustainable development and has major initiative aimed at preserving insects and bees, in particular, because one of the problems today is that with everything that's happening in the world in terms of the environment, the number of insects over the past 10 years has decreased drastically. When you're driving in your car, it's actually quite striking to note. It's when I was young, driving my car, and after a few hours, the windscreen was littered with insects, and now there aren't any -- insects are disappearing. So if we don't try and stem that, soon, we'll end up, and Madam [Bernard] is fully aware of that. There won't be any insects left. So that's why we're trying to look after the bees.

And other brands are doing very well. Notably, the collection that we launched with [case] and Rihanna, very successful. And Rihanna we launched, but it's small, her brand with the -- her fashion business.

Watches & Jewelry. There, again, great progress. Let's start with Bvlgari that is delivering strong performance, new product lines, with the development of existing lines. Shown here is the new watch that's very iconic made in its design. It's an exclusive Bvlgari design, the Serpenti. That's a big hit and excellent financials. Bvlgari, since we acquired it, we've multiplied the revenue by just over 2 and operating profit, fivefold. And soon, we'll be acquiring Tiffany. That's a target we're setting to our Tiffany teams, okay, took 10 years, but we won't deliver that tomorrow morning. But if we can achieve that, it will have been a good acquisition. But don't mention that. It has to -- have to keep that under wraps. Otherwise, people were saying that we're buying on the cheap because we are paying rather a lot in dollars.

Watches, things are going well. Hublot, very strong growth, many new products. TAG Heuer, this year, we revamped the distribution network. We've reduced inventories. We did away with a number of retailers who weren't following our recommendation. We tried to reduce inventory levels. So that's why the figures for the year are a little strained on TAG Heuer, but it will pick up this with a -- the launch of a great connected watch that has lots of applications, apps, including one for golf that's quite incredible. And Chaumet. Chaumet, too, has been very successful this year with many new creations, including Bee My Love that's so successful that there, again, it's out of stock.

Selective Retailing. Well, Sephora, Chris is here, very successful, doing very well. I won't give the figures because we said we weren't going to disclose them, but they're impressive. When we bought the business, and I think back 20 years ago, it generated EUR 100 million in revenue. And now there, we've added a few 0s, a few 0s. That's what we can say, but I'd say it's pretty good, thanks to our teams. Great business that's expanded strongly. It's Internet business.

DFS, slightly tougher because DFS is largely based in Hong Kong. You're all familiar with the difficulties in Hong Kong. We've really cut costs, still remains profitable, but profitability is down, and it's set to pick up once again as soon as there are problems. There are others that have arrived since the problems faced by the region will disappear and that Hong Kong's difficulties once again disappear.

Center of business for retailing is Le Bon Marché, a very fine store that works very well. And also the integration in 2019 of the wonderful Belmond hotels in the group. We're working on them. And that will extend our business to a more experiential area. There's a lot of synergies with our products, and I won't go into details now.

So for 2020, as with previous years, the climate is buoyant. It will remain so, as I've said on several occasions today, in the coming years. We're not going to be able to escape a financial crisis at some point or another. It's very unusual situation or at least unique as compared when I started in the business where interest rates are at an all-time low, close to 0, negative, where the world is awash with liquidity, asset prices continued to rise. That can't last eternally. There's bound to be a readjustment. Where will it come from, I don't know. But for over 10 years now, there hasn't been a major global economic crisis. So it will necessarily end up by happening. But I think that this year, given the U.S. election, given a whole set of factors, growth that must be kick-started in Europe. I don't think that will happen. It won't happen this year. So this year, from the macroeconomic standpoint, it should be a good year.

But if there are questions -- well, I mean, does the influence of the outbreak of the disease in China, I can speak to that later, if you like, and just say that the group continues to grow, continues the course it has set itself by building on its values, creativity at the heart of everything we do, the quality of our product, one of the prime reasons why customers buy our products, the agility, the entrepreneurial spirit of our teams. We're a family business, and the fact that we're a family business allows us to take a long-term perspective that's vital in our business. And analysts here mustn't expect us to look at the quarter with the share price for the next 6 months. I see some skeptical looks, but it's -- we're pretty indifferent to that. I mean it doesn't matter in the least, to me, I don't manage things on that basis. But for the company, that's good news.

The last value I've added is commitment. Commitment, the group's commitment is fundamental for young people, for our customers. What does it mean? It means that when the group's products it bought, it must have meaning, and we want to understand what the group is doing aside from making great products that people aspire to what we do to address current problems, those of general interest. That's what we've been doing now for over 20 years on the environment with Madam Bernard and her successor who's just arrived, Madam [Velarde], with a very dynamic inclusion policy, with our human resources of cultural diversity. And we're keenly interested in our social economic environment, and we support a number of causes. I'm sure you're familiar with them, but it's very important for us. That's what I wish to say about 2019 and the outlook.

Well, this year, we have many things to achieve, many products, many creative ideas, but I won't unveil them all here, rather my competitors discover them when it's too late.

Over now to Jean-Jacques Guiony.

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Jean-Jacques Guiony, LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - CFO [2]

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Good evening, everyone. Let's take a closer look at the figures. And as usual, start with revenue. This is somewhat complicated chart, but on the -- you can see that sales were up, upwards of EUR 53 billion, up 15% compared to last year. 15% can be broken down into 3 parts. First is the currency effect, 3%.

If you look to the left, you can see that the currency effect is positive, and that is not always the case. It was not the case last year and almost constant quarter after quarter, about 3%, a small -- 1 percentage point structure impact, that is the integration of Belmond. It was consolidated as of April. So that's why the structure effect is higher in Q4.

And then proper growth, organic growth, 10%. That was, again, pretty much consistent, 11%, 10%, 11%. 8% Q4 seems to be slightly less than the others, but that's something of a illusion because there were 2 factors in the basis of comparison -- basis of comparison in Q3. There were 2 factors. First, you had an increased VAT rate in Japan in October 1. And so the Japanese took advantage -- well, bought much more in September, much less in October because of the increase in VAT. So there was a increased business in September.

In Wines & Spirits, there was some replenishment of inventory, restocking in Q3 in Cognac in the U.S. And so there was the opposite effect afterwards because, of course, all the sales that took place in Q3 could not, of course, be repeated in Q4. But all in all, you have a 1.5% organic growth. And so if you reshift Q3 and Q4, you end up with 9.5% organic growth quarter-on-quarter, and that sort of smoothes out this step that you see from Q3 to Q4.

If you look at the geographic -- the breakdown by region of sales, you have about 30% in Asia, an additional 1 percentage point in Europe, and that is also to do with the currency effect in Europe. America being pretty much the same. So what happened in the various parts of the world? You can see that more or less, everything went the right way. In the U.S., up 6%. Growth was somewhat less in Q4. That is partly to do with the stocking and destocking of Cognac that happened between Q3 and Q4. Hence, the performance in Q4 was somewhat less than the rest of the year. Japan with a minus 4% is all to do with this VAT effect. We believe it's -- although it's difficult to measure that, but I think this is mostly behind us. So we made up for the losses of Q4. And so that's pretty much the case. It may not be always the case for Watches & Jewelry, may not be the case, but elsewhere it is.

Asia, excellent. So we had up 16% -- well, 17% in H1, only 12% in H2. This is to do with Hong Kong. Hong Kong in Q3 was down 25%. And of course, the deterioration in Hong Kong was only 1 week in the 12 weeks of the -- of Q3, whereas in Q4, you had minus 40% over the quarter.

But in Europe, revenue, not only was stable but actually improved in the last quarter compared to the first 3 quarters. And this is pretty unusual. If you look at revenue by business group, I look only at the right-hand side, organic growth, 6%. On Wines & Spirits, you have mostly to do with the mix/price effect -- the price/mix effect, but also it is to do simply because we have premium Wines & Spirits. So 6% organic growth is excellent.

Fashion & Leather Goods, significant growth, 17% -- up 17%. And last year's basis of comparison already was pretty challenging. And so this was an outstanding year in Fashion & Leather Goods.

Perfumes & Cosmetics, up 9%, again, a pretty good year. A bit more challenging in Watches & Jewelry. We had a contrasting picture. On the one hand, Bvlgari had an excellent year, but TAG Heuer being repositioned, had suffered some but declined, hence, the mitigated organic growth, 3%. The Hong Kong effect was somewhat out of proportion in Watches & Jewelry. Plus, there was, as I said, the Japan effect where we had trouble making up for the losses of Q3 -- well, we had to make up for the losses of Q4. But we have a -- well, Selective Retailing only enjoyed a 5% growth and mostly to do with the Hong Kong situation in DFS.

If you look at revenue growth. So Wines & Spirits, without destocking, it would be 6% in Q4 and somewhat less than 7% in the first 9 months. Fashion & Leather Goods, still a very high performance in Q4. Perfumes & Cosmetics ended the year beautifully. But as I said, it was a bit more complicated in Watches & Jewelry for the reasons I mentioned just now.

If you look at the income statement per se, and you have it up on the screen. Let's -- well, the sales revenue up 15%, gross margin 66.2%. That's pretty much in line with the -- with sales, a slightly negative currency effect.

Marketing and selling expenses. So within that, you have marketing and selling expenses, not including currency effect. Selling expenses were up 10%; and marketing, 11%. Whereas G&A, not including currency effect, were up 8%. And so all in all, we have a -- we have profit from recurring operation, EUR 11.5 billion compared to EUR 10 billion. So that's quite significant.

Other operating income and expenses, we have quite a few one-off items. Mostly, the subsidy of the EUR 100 million to repair Notre-Dame de Paris after the fire. There was also the acquisition costs of Tiffany, and that was already recognized as early as 2019, plus some depreciation of intangible assets.

Financial income and expenses -- well, expenses, rather, I have a special slide. We have -- I'll get back to that. Taxes were up. We have a slight increase. 27% income tax rate, slightly 1 percentage point more than last year. Minority interest, pretty much the same. You have, of course, more revenue from Moët & C but less from DFS because of the situation of DFS. But all in all, we are looking at a group share of net profit upwards of EUR 7.1 billion, up 13% compared to last year.

If you look at the profit from recurring operations by business group first, you can see that Wines & Spirits up 6%. It's slightly less than revenue but still pretty good. Again, we had a negative currency effect in the first half of the year. Fashion & Leather Goods, up 24%, so that's more than revenue, a splendid performance, driven by Vuitton and Christian Dior, as Mr. Arnault said, but true for other businesses as well. Perfumes & Cosmetics suffered only 1 -- plus 1% in terms of profits. Well, there was a number of brands and other assets were depreciated younger. Without that depreciation, it would be almost 10%. But that here is in line with revenue. So this is a bit deceptive, the figure here for Perfumes & Cosmetics. Watches & Jewelry, there was some compensation between TAG Heuer and Bvlgari, as I said, same situation as for revenue. And Selective Retailing, again, there was [The Carter Effect] of DFS in the second half of the year in Hong Kong.

For the half year changes, no significant changes, and that's the main message on that slide. No degradation in H2. In fact, the other way around because you have a better growth in H2 than in H1, plus 16% compared to 14% in H1. You have the depreciation of H2 in Perfumes & Cosmetics. And Watches & Jewelry, you have the Hong Kong effect. But as I said, Fashion & Leather Goods up 29%, 10 percentage points more than the growth of revenue in H2.

If you have a breakdown of the profit from recurring operation. You have the structure impact, plus EUR 94 million, that's Belmond. Currency effect positive to the tune of EUR 266 million. That was only in H2. There was nothing in H1. And the balance is, of course, organic growth. I don't know if the word organic means much in terms of profit as such, but the idea is that the 2 other items are highlighted here.

Regarding financial income. Now it was about EUR 400 million. Now it's EUR 559 million. That's the net financial expense. The cost of financial debt is pretty much the same. Interest rates are the same. Principal is about the same. Interest on lease liabilities, now, that means a portion of the rental income shouldn't be here, but that is a result of IFRS 16, so EUR 290 million. And because the standard prohibitors from restating 2018, which would have given us a chance to present numbers, clearly, I'm afraid I have no basis of comparison here. So this is completely incomprehensible.

The cost of currency derivatives, that was up for 2 reasons. Number one, there was more hedging for receivables. And because, of course, the overall volume was up, so we have more subsidiaries, more revenue, and there are some technical effects on the value of Kors sold in [a total] we sell through that, and that was down because of volatility and the unit cost of hedging went up. Then fair value of adjustment of available for sale financial assets, that's a bit complicated, but that's our portfolio of financial assets. That's not an actual capital gain that is recognized. It is underlying capital gain. Last year, this was down. This year, it is up. So we had on paper a charge of EUR 100 million last year. And now we have on paper again a profit of EUR 82 million, but that's not a recognized capital gain.

Now if you look at the balance sheet, there's a slight increase. I'll talk about debt later on, but you have the consolidation of Belmond, of course, that has brought in lots of assets. Belmond owns most of its hotels. And there's also -- because we've taken -- we recognized EUR 12 billion in assets on leases and EUR 12 billion in debt, and so because of IFRS 16, all these items are -- have -- are affected.

If you look at the cash position, that's incomprehensible, I'm afraid. But the one thing that is constant, that's the last line, that is operating free cash flow. Now that is up EUR 5.4 billion to about EUR 6.2 billion from -- about 13% increase. That's what's left when we've paid for capital expenditure and working capital requirements have absorbed the growth, dividends and the rest is in -- nonoperational part is the balance. So EUR 6.2 billion was used. There was EUR 3.7 billion for dividend, 3.3 -- roughly EUR 3 billion for acquisitions. And the balance is EUR 0.8 billion or point -- or EUR 700 million to EUR 800 million. And so the debt -- net debt stands about EUR 6.2 billion, which is almost the same amount as free cash flow, and that accounts for 16% of equity. The debt-to-equity percent ratio is 16%.

Dividends, by way of conclusion, dividend is up 13%, as will be proposed at the general meeting, annual meeting. There was an interim dividend in December. So EUR 4.60 is the balance that will be paid out in February.

And one slide, which I will spare you, but that's the effect of IFRS 16 on our accounts. The only thing I will say that you can explain clearly how we made a great step backward in terms of financial legibility.

Thank you for your attention.

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Questions and Answers

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Unidentified Company Representative, [1]

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Well, ladies and gentlemen, we're now available to take your questions, if there are any questions. I'm sure there are. If you'd kindly introduce yourself before putting your question.

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Edouard Aubin, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Head of Luxury Goods [2]

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Edouard from Morgan Stanley. I've got 3 questions. The first, obviously, if you could give us an update on the impact of the coronavirus these past few days. On Fashion & Leather Goods, 2 questions. Market expectations for this year in terms of organic growth of about 10%. You're not giving any guidance. But earlier, you mentioned production manufacturing constraints. Those manufacturing constraints in the year underway will prevent you from delivering on the market's expectations that are high point these past few years. And on the margin for Fashion & Leather Goods, operate -- you didn't have any operational leverage in the first half with a negative impact in terms of currency, strong expansion of the margin into H2, 200 basis points, if I'm not mistaken. Could you return to the reasons that account for the strong expansion of the margin in terms of currency, possibly price increases of Vuitton volume growth?

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Bernard Arnault, LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - Chairman & CEO [3]

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Well, on the outbreak of the disease, what can we say? What I said the group, as each and every time an unexpected event occurs, first reaction, let's not panic, let's analyze the situation calmly. Next, when we question our teams in China because that's where it started, they all say it's very early days to have an answer and so -- to know, I mean, how long all this will last. Having said that, several points. They make -- they say several things to me. Firstly, it would appear that this virus is not as aggressive as that, that was detected back when there was the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong. Secondly, Chinese government has reacted very strongly, very robustly.

And given the strength of the reaction, we can assume that their reaction will have consequences, very marked consequences on the -- on curbing on fighting this epidemic. When we -- then the question, and I don't want to -- can't really subscribe to that because we don't know what the outcome will be at the end of the day, but they do seem to say that the peak -- the high point of this epidemic should be reached over the coming weeks. And then we asked someone, how long will it last? How long will it take to resolve? Their answer is that it may be partially or partly resolved during the course of March or at the end of March. That's the information that is available to me. I cannot confirm that with certainty. That's what we're hearing. Don't write it. It's probably wrong. But that's the information available to us.

Having said that, by comparison, someone who's highly informed said to me earlier, he's sitting in the front row here, do you know how many people don't live from the flu every year in France? About 10,000. So I mean -- that's what you said, right? So I mean, I'm far from being a leading flu specialist. I'm not saying that this virus can be compared to the flu virus. I don't know. I'm not a doctor. So that's the state of play. It all depends on the impact. As you're saying, what's the impact on your -- on the business? We can't answer. I mean if it lasts a couple of months or if it's resolved over the next 2, 2.5 months, then it won't be all that bad. I mean if it were to last 2 years, it would be a totally different matter. That's what I can say.

Well, manufacturing constraints. Well, we're going to be have new workshops will be opening this year, and we're going to try and meet that demand. But growth for the sake of growth is not our objective. What we want is to continue to produce quality products, satisfy our customers. I mean growth is good. I mean it delights the shareholders. I mean I'm also a shareholder, so I can't say that I look askance at it, but it's not really the objective. You'll get a bit of growth.

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Jean-Jacques Guiony, LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - CFO [4]

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On question #3 and profit margins. In -- yes, in that division, margins were down about 1 percentage points in Q2. It's mostly to do with currency effects because there was a positive effect in 2018. For H2, there was -- the profit margin was down 3.5%, mostly to do with operational factor, slightly less for currency effects. So growth of revenue was faster than growth of costs, and growth of revenue was mostly volume growth. It's not in terms of price. For Vuitton, there was maybe 1 percentage point in price effects last year. So it's mostly to do with volumes in Vuitton. It's mostly price and not volume. And so this is throughout the production line, by the way.

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Zuzanna Pusz, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Head of European Luxury Equity Research [5]

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Zuzanna Pusz from UBS. I have 3 questions. So first of all, on -- just to follow up on the price increases. So you mentioned it was 1% for Vuitton for the year, but can you just give more color what exactly was the price increase? I think it was in November. Was it around mid-single digits, if I'm correct? And also, just out of curiosity because, I think, historically, price increases were implemented usually at the beginning of the year. So is this just to change the pricing policy or the growth was so strong that it made sense to increase prices? Secondly, also on Fashion & Leather Goods. So I mean obviously, 15% is still a very good growth in Q4, but it seems like it's a pretty big deceleration versus Q3.

So I'm just wondering if it's all just driven by Japan and Hong Kong. Or could it be that, as you've mentioned, there were some capacity constraints, so maybe you decided to hold some volumes for the Chinese New Year? And then thirdly, also on the coronavirus, sorry, maybe that will be the last question on that. But just for us to have an idea because it's obviously very unclear how the situation will develop. So how should we think of your ability to control costs because margins are very impressive at historical highs? So would you say that versus the history, you have more ability to control costs because there's a lot of ANP you could cut? Or any color around that, that would be very helpful.

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Jean-Jacques Guiony, LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - CFO [6]

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Surely. Regarding price increases at Vuitton, there was no price increase in 2019, not across the board. There were some price increases here and there in various countries. And then there were some effects of price increases that occurred at the end of 2018, but that were all -- again one-off items and is pretty negligible. There were some price increases to compensate for monetary depreciation for devaluations.

Regarding organic growth in Fashion, this rather pathetic 15% increase from 3 to 4. Now in Japan, we had a 25% increase in Japan in Q3 and stable in Q4. So there alone, you have 10% of our business there. Hong Kong, we already mentioned, we were down 25% in Q3 and looking overall at minus 40% in Q4. Of course, this had an impact, but it meant that, growth instead of being 19% in Q3, it was only "15%" in Q4. That's still pretty good.

Now the last question about keeping costs under control, that's always something of a challenge. But the epidemic is occurring in the country where variable cost is their highest share. I mean leases are -- is the highest percentage -- highest cost in percentage of revenue. It's not the case in Hong Kong but certainly the case in Mainland China. So there will be a mechanical adjustment of costs. Should there be less business, there would be less costs as well.

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Luca Giuseppe Solca, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., LLC., Research Division - Research Analyst [7]

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Luca Solca from Bernstein. So I have a question for you about the dynamics of Cosmetics in the United States. We noticed a slight slowdown that we sensed at Sephora in Q3, if I recall correctly. Today, you're mentioning an adjustment of the value of inventories of small cosmetics brands in the U.S. Is there a pickup in that slowdown that we noticed in American Cosmetics? Is there something more significant underway at that level? Secondly, I was wondering, looking at the possibilities to recover in some of the brands in transition, whether you have reasonably a hope for an improvement of a few small sections that were lagging behind such as Marc Jacobs.

We haven't really said very much about that brand, but I know that you had recovery programs underway for a while now. Any news about Céline and the transition of watches, the decisions that were taken? The Swiss Competition Commission, are they going to have an impact on you in any? What I'm referring to, what was decided about the sale of movements, the part of the [estate] in Switzerland? And thirdly, if you could give us an overview of your new initiatives in the field of ESG that have increasingly interest to investors? You brought in a brand that's well known for being a leader in that field. So if you could give us some color on your ambitions, that would be very useful.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [8]

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As regards the cosmetics market, I think that globally, we're seeing performance that remains in line with the past. But in terms of geography, the growth rates are not evenly distributed. Asia growing strongly in the American market that's not faring so well. That's reported data. And within that, we see after skyrocketing sales in makeup from 2013 to 2017, well, of late, that growth has slowed and more -- there's actually stronger growth in [stinker]. That's what I can say on that front.

Following up on what Mr. Arnault and Jean-Jacques said about inventories, it's true that we launched whole -- a set of new brands. And on those brands, we should maybe have done some more gradual cleanup. It happens that we actually did it in one fell swoop for those brands. Aside from that, brands continue to do well. The Fendi brand with Rihanna had a great year, but there was some tidying up that we should have done earlier.

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Bernard Arnault, LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - Chairman & CEO [9]

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On the 2 brands that you mentioned, Marc Jacobs and Céline, there are improvements in both cases. Céline, you saw, we've totally revamped the aesthetics. It's off to a good start. We've just launched in 2019 perfumes, so we added a product line with great products. Some of you may have seen it. It's quite an extraordinary product. And Marc Jacobs, we're working on improving. We're gradually improving with the new management team that's been in place for 2 years now. We're operating profit. Do we talk about January? But well, January is off to a very good start. That's a scoop for you. Just to contribute to help you write your piece.

The last question?

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Unidentified Company Representative, [10]

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Yes, I'll take that. I think that Mr. Arnault mentioned commitment as a value that is growing in strength. It's not as if we've just started. Our efforts on the environment started many years ago and delivering very good results. In our LIFE program, we had set specific goals for 2020. And I can say that 3 out of the 4 goals have already been reached at the end of 2019. There's still work to be done on the fourth.

What is true is that we're strengthening the teams, both for the environment and social front, to give renewed impetus and to strengthen our efforts in areas that are important for our stakeholders, customers, employees, all of us. And I'm sure that these initiatives will be more widely disseminated. It's not the work of improvisation. In fact, we should have invited you to the reception that we hosted here 2 months ago on everything we've achieved in terms of the environment, thanks to Sylvie [Pinot], dating back to the early '90s. And the -- it's very impressive, the conclusion. I mean I can say without false modesty that we're better in the know-how than others who are perhaps better -- perhaps more efficient when it comes to shouting it from the rooftops.

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Unidentified Participant, [11]

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[Paolo Levi] from the Italian Press Agency. Could you confirm or deny the noises that have been doing the rounds for some time on a presumed interest by LVMH or the family for the acquisition of the Milan AC football team?

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Bernard Arnault, LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - Chairman & CEO [12]

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Well, listen, this is a subject that really does hold a mystery because I really admire Milan AC. It's a great team, great club, extraordinary players. Some of you phone me or write to me and asking what's happening, what's going on. Probably the sixth or the seventh time in the past 6 years that I've denied having the slightest operational interest or compensation to acquire this great soccer club. I don't know if what I'm saying this evening will come to anything, probably not. You just feel the rumor mill and a number of magazines. People say, well, he's really keenly interested. Will the mystery continue? I just don't know. Maybe an Italian mystery. Who knows?

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Antoine Belge, HSBC, Research Division - Global of Consumer and Retail Research [13]

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Antoine Belge from HSBC. I have 3 questions. Number one, I would like to congratulate you on this outstanding performance of Fashion & Leather Goods, the best since the year 2004. I mean I believe that handbags did extremely well and leather goods, in particular. But I think that the other products also enjoyed significant growth. So outside leather goods, what is the -- what are the main items? And I believe that this purchase...

(technical difficulty)

of gemstone that -- the gemstone, that is, of course, a very strong gesture. Can you comment on that? Then there was something about the online sales. Should you sell only on your own website?

Richemont has been spending lots of money trying to develop their website. You -- I believe that (inaudible), 24 Sèvres became 24S. Well, you haven't mentioned this, but is this one area that is of lesser interest? Or is this -- or are the -- is the outlook not quite as good as the others? And then finally, about Cognac and Champagne in 2020. Cognac, we saw that Q4 was a bit slower, and of course, there was a change in management. But could you say something about depletion and sellout? On Champagne, I believe that last year, you wanted to go for premium brands, but volumes were stable. There was maybe a mix/price effect.

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Bernard Arnault, LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - Chairman & CEO [14]

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Well, on Vuitton, I will not reveal the details of Louis Vuitton. But as you rightly pointed out, the product line is -- has become broader. We have, of course, perfumes. We have watches. You have jewelry. Of course, we have -- all of these have been very successful, ready-to-wear that is fashion, both for men and women. Both have been very successful. We have Nicolas Ghesquière and (inaudible) the -- I mean -- and that includes shoes, by the way. These are very successful. So we've expanded our lines of business. So originally, fair enough, it was the trunks and bags. But of course, we've expanded and diversified greatly since then.

For jewelries -- jewelry, in particular, that business is -- shows great potential. Have you seen the gemstone? Have you seen -- you should take a look Place Vendôme. This gemstone comes from Botswana. It is 700 -- 1,750 karat. It is a raw stone. This is just -- it's pure magic. And if you look at the number of visitors that come to see, the stone is quite incredible. It will -- it's on its way to Taiwan. I think we'll ship it to Taiwan in 2 or 3 weeks where it will be displayed there. But in any case, Louis Vuitton as a brand has diversified away from just leather goods, but its core business was leather goods. But from that, we gained legitimacy in many other fields, and Perfumes are enjoying significant revenue. In fact, there is one business where we can't even keep up with demand, and that's what we call the nomadic objects that involve a number of designers. Some of them are on display Place Vendôme. And there, again, they are very much in demand, and you have actual items of furniture that sell extremely well.

Now online sales. Now when I look at online sales from the big sites, I am somewhat skeptical. Maybe I'm old school. But when I look at a business, I look at profits to see how well they're doing. All of them, all of these online sites are losing money. So that's a poor indicator. And the bigger they are, the more money they lose. We were asked to become involved in this. I was never keen. There is one minor site called 24S, but that is no exception to the rule. Well, because it's small, it doesn't lose much money. So we developed it modestly, but -- well, maybe we'll find a way to make it make money. At this point, we haven't found a way to make it profitable. I mean it's almost insignificant for us, but the Internet is a service that we provide. So for Sephora, online sales are very effective. Why? Because you have people who come to the site because they know exactly what they want. But on most of the sites, I'm not going to name names, but people aren't there to look for discounts or bargains or -- as a result of which websites can -- these sites cannot be profitable because they have to have low prices. Otherwise, they'd lose their customers.

But look at Amazon, of course, this is an outstanding company. But if you look at the figures -- the products they sell online, having bought them beforehand, lose money. Where they do make money is on what they called the marketplace. So they don't own the stock. They don't own the inventory. They use their database to provide customers to other merchants, they take a commission. And that, by the way -- and we will try and resist this because that is how they sell counterfeit. And so that is a connection to organized crime. Because when you have a site selling counterfeit products, this is always financed either by organized crime or indeed -- or it ends up the pockets of terrorism. So is it right that big websites should make money being associated with organized crime? I don't know what you think. I find this shocking. And so there's -- we have to do a lot if we want to avoid the sale of counterfeit product. We have luxury products, but you also have counterfeit medicine and such like. And that's not right because the sale of these counterfeit products serves to finance terrorism and organized crime.

All right. So there was a question about Cognac and Champagne. Yes. On Champagne, there was an outstanding year for the prestige names. The 2008 vintage was an outstanding success, and we will continue down that path, not just with Dom Pérignon but (inaudible) will be doing same this year as last year. Ruinart, just as previous years, we will try and ensure that we give priority to high value than high volumes. Regarding Cognac last year, we started with low inventory levels in the U.S. So there was some restocking. We also -- well, there was a big advertising campaign. You may remember Ridley Scott X.O did extremely well. And because there was some restocking and because of the advertising campaign, there was more depletion that is more sales and hence, the good sales performance, especially for V.S in the United States, and we certainly intend to continue this year. Stocks will keep going up because they still haven't reached the right level, but there's good depletion as well, and we believe that we will be as good this year as we were last year.

Two final questions, and then Jean-Jacques Guiony will be available to take your questions directly.

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Unidentified Participant, [15]

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I'm from Le Monde Newspaper. Would you say a word about the setup you put in place in the U.K. for Brexit? Do you plan to increase prices across the channel? And just to return to Amazon, Amazon has a plan for a platform for selling luxury goods. I assume that given your assessment of Amazon, you won't be a part of that. Am I mistaken? Thirdly, if you looked at the buyback at Prada in December as the Italian press seems to indicate.

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Bernard Arnault, LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - Chairman & CEO [16]

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Well, the Italian press lends me many ideas, which, a number of cases, wide of the mark. In Amazon, you've -- you're absolutely right. That was your first Brexit. Do you want to answer about Brexit?

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Jean-Jacques Guiony, LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - CFO [17]

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Well, just like everybody else, we went through all sorts, the whole spectrum of emotions about Brexit. But now we know pretty much what to expect, so we are not concerned about stocking or things vanishing from our inventory. Regarding prices, there's no currency depreciation inside. The pound sterling apparently is looking up rather than down.

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Bernard Arnault, LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - Chairman & CEO [18]

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Final question, please? So you see, I'm giving you the floor.

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Unidentified Analyst, [19]

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I really do appreciate that, Mr. Arnault. Congratulations for the pretty good results. Three questions for you. First of all, Rihanna had a great success with Cosmetics. Congratulations. However, Fashion -- the Fashion Company you set up with her is far slower in achieving growth. Big success of Rihanna for the time being is in lingerie with the tech world, Los Angeles, maybe you've had negotiations with her about what's happening there. Secondly, you have a fine brand in Italy called Pucci. You haven't appointed a new creative or artistic designer, so there are noises that you're trying to sell. I know it's January, you're an entrepreneur who prefers to buy brands rather than selling them. Is there a decision in the offering there? Thirdly, almost 10 years ago, John Galliano left your group. You still hold the brand, but there are no Galliano stores to my knowledge, no revenue. Why didn't you sell the brand because, once again, apparently, there seem to be buyers for it?

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Bernard Arnault, LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne - Chairman & CEO [20]

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On Rihanna, well, I mean, it's off to a good start. Wait and see what comes next and what we do. She's got loads of ideas. I'm sure we'll do some very interesting things.

Next, on the Galliano brand, well, we own the brand, doesn't pose a problem. It's not losing any money. We'll wait and see how things develop. We can come up with some ideas.

And Pucci, ditto, small brand for the time being. I'd say that it's never really taken off. But it's good to have small brands, too. We say, maybe 1 day, we'll come across a great designer who says, "I got wonderful ideas for this small brand." We'll make something very good. We're really just tapping the archives.

Thank you all very much.

[Statements in English on this transcript were spoken by an interpreter present on the live call.]