Business

$14.5 billion acquisition offer: Louis Vuitton really wants something from Tiffany but timing may be iffy

by Sarah Halzack

Bloomberg

LVMH is apparently looking to add a new bauble to its collection of luxury industry jewels. It might want to remember that, in jewelry as in corporate acquisitions, the patient shopper often gets a better deal.

Bloomberg News reported Saturday that LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE has approached Tiffany & Co. with an acquisition offer of about $14.5 billion, a deal that would add a storied jewelry business with about $4 billion in annual sales to its portfolio.

This deal would make some strategic sense for LVMH. Jewelry and shoes were the fastest-growing product categories in the luxury market last year, suggesting the bling business has held up well amid rapid changes in consumer preferences and the rise of online shopping.

The watches and jewelry division is a relatively small business within the LVMH empire, so it makes sense the company would want to increase its presence in an area that has strong growth potential. Plus, Tiffany’s largest market is its Americas division, and its prices are often not as eye-popping as those at LVMH-owned Bulgari, so it would bring diversification to the LVMH jewelry lineup. And it could help step up its competition in the segment with Cie Financiere Richemont SA, whose Cartier brand is a heavyweight in the category.

Tiffany, meanwhile, could surely benefit from going under LVMH’s wing. As the U.S. company hunts for growth in Europe and Asia, it would be able tap the expertise of a conglomerate that has serious marketing muscle and experience courting global customers.

All that said, this may not be the optimal time for LVMH to gift itself a little blue box. LVMH’s balance sheet is healthy enough, so it can definitely afford it. But Tiffany is trading at a multiple not far below its historical five-year average.

And despite a clearer vision and a better product assortment at Tiffany under CEO Alessandro Bogliolo, there are warning signs. The possibility of a recession hangs over the U.S. market, and the U.S. shopper is starting to see higher prices on some goods as a result of tariffs on Chinese goods, a situation with little precedent that could scramble their spending patterns in hard-to-foresee ways. Tiffany already has seen its comparable sales decline 4 percent from a year earlier in the first half of the fiscal year, in part thanks to its struggle to wring sales out of foreign tourists in the U.S. — a pattern that reflects broader economic and geopolitical factors.

In other words: Don’t be surprised if sales continue to be lackluster at Tiffany in the coming months. In that case LVMH might find it would have been better off waiting to make its offer, when Tiffany could probably be had for a better price.

LVMH’s pursuit of Tiffany also may not be the best news for the U.S.-centric companies that are aiming to mimic its luxury conglomerate structure. Neither Tapestry Inc. (the corporate parent of Coach and Kate Spade) nor Capri Holdings Ltd. (the company behind Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo) likely would want to pounce on Tiffany themselves. Each already has significant U.S. exposure and has been looking for acquisitions that would make them more global players. But if a juggernaut like LVMH buys Tiffany, it may serve as a reminder to investors of how far Tapestry and Capri have to go before their ambitious visions are realized.

Tiffany would be a solid addition to LVMH’s treasure chest. But the luxury behemoth might regret not being more patient in its pursuit.

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