UPDATE 1-Italian luxury stocks drop on fears of a sector slowdown

Thu Jan 9, 2014 7:31am EST

* Shares in Tod's, Ferragamo, Cucinelli, Moncler down

* Early broker reports for 2014 are cautious

* Luxury firms re-positioning at cost of short-term growth

MILAN, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Shares in Italian luxury-goods companies fell on Thursday as analysts offered cautious forecasts for the sector in 2014, after its rapid growth showed signs of slowing last year.

While stocks rose overall on the Milan bourse, the shoemaker Tod's was temporarily suspended from trading after its shares fell almost 5 percent. Luxury leather group Salvatore Ferragamo hit its lowest level since mid-November.

Analysts are cautious ahead of the full-year reporting season after luxury companies including Tod's, Gucci, and Prada warned in 2013 that growth was slowing.

"We saw a slowdown in momentum in the sector in the third quarter, and I think that's likely to have continued into the fourth quarter," said Allegra Perry, the managing director of luxury goods research at Cantor Fitzgerald in London.

Luxury companies are having to adjust to slower sales growth in Asia, partly due to a government crackdown on conspicuous consumption among public officials in China, and lower spending by price-conscious consumers in Western Europe.

"Part of the reason why the third quarter was weaker than expected was due to repositioning strategies, which ultimately are likely to come at the expense of short-term growth, so it's not just a one-quarter phenomenon," Perry said. "This may impact on growth for some companies for at least a few quarters, in my view."

A Milan-based trader attributed the drop in Tod's shares to a negative judgement from investment bank Merrill Lynch, which reinstated its coverage of luxury stocks on Thursday.

Brokerage MainFirst downgraded Salvatore Ferragamo on Wednesday, saying that after the stock rose about 55 percent in 2013, "we believe it is a good time to take a breather ahead of potentially weaker (fourth quarter) reporting."

Tod's, known for its 300- to 400-euro leather loafers, is especially sensitive to a deeper-than-expected recession in its home market of Italy, where it makes around 40 percent of sales.

The company posted flat revenue and sales for the first nine months of 2013, and said lacklustre results and economic woe in Italy meant consensus analyst estimates for the full year would be difficult to reach.

Cashmere company Brunello Cucinelli, which trades on a price-earnings multiple almost double that of its sector peers, fell around 3 percent in the sell-off. Newly listed Moncler, which makes luxury down jackets, also lost ground.

Milan's main index was over 1 percent higher on the day at 1121GMT.

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