* Q3 sales 6.01 bln eur vs Rtrs poll avg 5.8 bln
* Group confident about remainder of year
* LVMH shares rise 0.4 pct, CAC 40 index falls 0.8 pct
* LVMH stake in Hermes not materially changed-CFO
By James Regan
PARIS, Oct 18 (Reuters) - LVMH , the world’s biggest luxury group, posted forecast-beating third-quarter sales growth on Tuesday and said it was confident for the rest of 2011, the latest sign of wealthy shoppers’ resilient appetite for high-end goods.
The 15 percent sales gain on a like-for-like basis follows strong results from Burberry last week and augurs well for other luxury fashion brands and retailers even amid nagging signs that the broader economy is in danger of slipping into recession.
Sales rose to 6.01 billion euros ($8.27 billion) in the three months to Sept. 30, beating the 5.8 billion average estimate in a Reuters poll of 10 analysts.
The maker of Louis Vuitton handbags said the first nine months of the year confirmed its confidence for the full year, though it gave no specific forecast, adding that it remained difficult to predict how business would develop.
“Our visibility’s as good as yesterday’s sales, so it’s quite complicated,” finance head Jean-Jacques Guiony told a conference call.
“What we say when we mention confidence is that we see the environment in which we operate not being meaningfully different from what it’s been since the beginning of the year. And we have no reason to believe this will change materially in the next few months.”
LVMH said the trend in the third quarter matched the first half, with momentum in Asia, Europe and the United States and a rebound in Japan from the slump following the earthquake disaster.
Guiony added that retail business performance so far in October had been in line with the previous nine months.
“The figures are good. They prove the luxury sector is not experiencing any slowdown,” one Paris-based analyst said.
LVMH shares closed 0.4 percent firmer at 114 euros, outperforming a 0.80 percent decline on the French blue-chip CAC 40 index .
The comments by LVMH echoed those of British luxury goods group Burberry , which said last week it had seen “consistent strong brand momentum and business growth”, and that there was no evidence of a slowdown.
Consultancy Bain & Co said on Monday the growth outlook for the global luxury goods industry in 2011 was stronger than it was in the spring, despite worries about economic conditions.
On Monday, a senior executive at Italian fashion house Prada SpA was quoted in the Hong Kong Economic Journal as saying it saw strong growth in China, with sales expected to triple in the coming years.
“(LVMH) isn’t giving an outlook, as per usual, but it is confident,” CM-CIC analyst Merav Atlani wrote in a note. He said the sales figures beat his expectations thanks in part to Louis Vuitton’s growth and the strength of watch brands Tag Heuer and Hublot.
LVMH said it benefited from contributions from Italian jeweller Bulgari, which it bought this year, and whose results were consolidated for the first time during the third quarter.
Nine-month sales jumped 76 percent at the group’s watch and jewellery division, with like-for-like growth of 26 percent, LVMH said.
The group, posted like-for-like growth of at least 10 percent at all its divisions in the first nine months of the year.
During the weekend, LVMH opened its workshops, design showrooms and wine cellars to the public for the first time in its history in a move to show that traditional craftsmanship is still at the heart of the luxury group controlled by France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault.
LVMH had nine-month like-for-like growth of 15 percent in its fashion and leather goods division, the largest contributor to sales, with double-digit percentage revenue growth at Louis Vuitton.
The group’s wines and spirits division saw 11 percent organic growth. Its champagne brands, which include Moet & Chandon and Dom Perignon, “benefited from the dual effect of sustained demand and a favourable product mix”, LVMH said.
Sparkling wines also saw “rapid growth”, while Asia continued to be a key market for its Hennessy cognac, LVMH said.
Luxury stocks including LVMH have recovered since a sell-off in late September and early October that was sparked by fears the sector could be hit by a spending slump.
Worries the euro zone debt crisis could push the world back into recession had added to concerns that emerging markets such as China, the engine of growth for the industry, could suffer an economic slowdown.