Bloomberg

(Bloomberg Gadfly) -- Top-end spending is back, as well-heeled punters splurge on Hermes Birkin bags, Gucci blouses and Cartier love bangles. But things still ain't what they used to be in luxury land, despite the recent giddiness among stock market investors.

Look at the latest industry report from consultants Bain & Co and Fondazione Altagamma, the Italian luxury association. It predicts that personal luxury goods sales will expand by between 2 and 4 percent this year, excluding currency movements, much better than the flat year in 2016.

Nevertheless, it's nothing like the pre-slowdown years, when Chinese shoppers were chucking money around with abandon. Bain forecasts average yearly growth of 3-4 percent through to 2020, compared with 6 percent between 1996 and 2016.

Investors, though, seem to be anticipating a spending boom on everything from Swiss watches to silk scarves. The Bloomberg Intelligence luxury index has risen 23 percent over the past year. Its price to expected earnings multiple is at its highest in about six years, putting it at a premium to both the MSCI World Index and the MSCI Consumer Durables and Apparel Index.

That's a pretty deluxe rating when you consider Bain is saying growth might conceivably be just 2 percent this year.

Plus there are sharp variations between regions. While Bain expects better times in Europe and China, the U.S. looks under-dressed by comparison. The strong dollar doesn't help, along with the uncertainty around the Trump presidency. Meanwhile, the glory days of the U.S. department store are receding fast.

Things may get harder too for Europe's big luxury houses. LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE warned in April that its blockbuster first-quarter growth might not last for the rest of 2017.

Indeed, comparisons will be tough for the whole of the industry in the final six months of 2017, as the first signs of recovery blossomed in late Summer last year. Any more political tremors, or other incidents that stop the high-end consumer class travelling, would compound that.

After Swiss watch sales turned negative again last week, the Bain forecasts are another splash of cold water for the luxury bulls. Without another acceleration in sales, or some industry M&A, the bling ring of the big luxury houses might yet lose some of its shimmer.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.

To contact the author of this story: Andrea Felsted in London at afelsted@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Boxell at jboxell@bloomberg.net.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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