By Stacy Meichtry 

PARIS -- Shares across Europe's luxury-goods sector hit record highs Wednesday after LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE reported a strong rebound in first-quarter sales, defying the pandemic's drag on the global economy.

Shoppers in China and the U.S., where a rapid vaccine rollout has led to eased restrictions, are fueling strong demand for leather goods at Louis Vuitton, Dior and other brands owned by LVMH. Sales at LVMH reached 14 billion euros, equivalent to $16.75 billion, over the first three months of 2021, a 30% increase compared with a year earlier, stripping out the effect of currency changes and its acquisition of U.S. jeweler Tiffany. The first-quarter sales were 8% higher than the same period in 2019, before the pandemic.

Shares in LVMH and its closest rivals in the luxury industry rose to all-time highs on Wednesday. LVMH shares increased 3.2% to EUR614, Gucci parent Kering SA rose 2.7% to EUR644 and Cartier owner Compagnie Financière Richemont SA jumped 3% to 96.68 Swiss francs.

LVMH's market value rose above EUR300 billion this week for the first time, solidifying its status as Europe's most valuable company, ahead of consumer-goods giant Nestle SA and pharmaceutical company Roche Holdings AG, as well as the continent's oil giants and banks.

As the pandemic gripped Europe last year, a freeze in international travel fueled investors' concerns that the luxury sector was heading for dire straits. LVMH and other luxury behemoths have long relied on tourist traffic in fashion capitals around the world to drive their sales. Chinese shoppers that once arrived by the busload vanished from boutiques in Paris and Milan. Since then, Europe's sluggish vaccine rollout has resulted in the return of lockdown restrictions in France, Italy and other parts of the continent.

LVMH, however, has largely managed to shrug off the pandemic's impact in Europe due to its expansion in China and the U.S. In recent years, the luxury giant has worked hard to expand its e-commerce operations and open new stores in China and beyond, making it less dependent on Europe.

LVMH said its first-quarter sales in Asia, excluding Japan, increased 86% compared with the same period last year and 26% compared with the first quarter of 2019. In the U.S., sales rose 23% compared with the first quarter of 2020 and 15% compared with the first three months of 2019.

Write to Stacy Meichtry at stacy.meichtry@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 14, 2021 08:10 ET (12:10 GMT)

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