* Q1 like-for-like sales up 14.7 percent
* Boosted by demand in Japan ahead of price rises, VAT hike
* Sales growth faster than close rivals
(Adds details, CEO comments)
By Astrid Wendlandt
PARIS, April 29 French luxury goods maker Hermes
posted a forecast-beating 14.7 percent rise in
like-for-like first-quarter sales on Tuesday, driven by strong
demand for its fashion and leather goods.
The Paris-based company known for its Kelly and Birkin
handbags said sales in Japan, one of its biggest markets, were
boosted by purchases ahead of anticipated price increases and a
value added tax hike on April 1.
Revenue in Japan rose 22 percent in the first quarter, while
trading remained buoyant in the United States and China.
Hermes Chief Executive Axel Dumas said he expected sales in
Japan to be lower in the second quarter due to the higher
comparative basis, but remain positive over the whole year.
Dumas said trading had improved in some southern European
markets such as Italy both thanks to higher demand from local
consumers and also thanks to the brand's new shop in Milan
opened in October last year.
"There is surely a recovery in Italy," Dumas told Reuters in
an telephone interview.
Hermes' first-quarter revenue of 943.5 million euros ($1.31
billion) was hit by a negative foreign exchange impact of 40
million euros, the company said in a statement.
"A very impressive start to the year," broker UBS said in a
note, adding that the company's first-quarter revenue figure
overshot its 902 million euro forecast.
Hermes's performance beat again that of close rivals such as
Louis Vuitton, owned by LVMH, whose sales rose 9
percent in the first quarter and Gucci, part of Kering
which posted a revenue rise of just under 1 percent on a
Leather goods products, Hermes' main revenue and profit
contributor, generated sales growth of 15.5 percent on a
like-for-like basis, while ready-to-wear and fashion accessories
sales rose 19.1 percent.
Dumas said the increase was helped by ramped-up production
at the company's newly opened sites in France.
"As demand is always higher than supply, variations are
therefore always linked to supply," Dumas said.
Last month, the company said it expected a slight drop in
operating margin in 2014, partly due to foreign exchange
At 0950 GMT, Hermes shares were up 0.5 percent.
($1 = 0.7223 Euros)
(Editing by James Regan and Mark Potter)