Home Economy Cash May Be King But It Can’t Cure Burberry’s Style Slip

Cash May Be King But It Can’t Cure Burberry’s Style Slip

4 min read

                Cash May Be King But It Can't Cure Burberry's Style Slip

                Cash May Be King But It Can't Cure Burberry's Style Slip

Burberry has a fashion problem. Luckily it doesn’t have a cashflow problem too.

Burberry said Thursday it generated cash from operating activities of 689 million pounds ($897.6 million) in the year to March 31, a big jump from 2016. This enabled it to announce a 5 percent increase in the full-year dividend, as well as an extension of its share buyback program.

Burberry also confirmed it's on track to achieve at least 100 million pounds of annual cost savings by 2019. All this is a comfort for investors, because there's little to console them elsewhere. The company still has a mountain to climb to make itself a millennial must-have. 

Same-store retail sales rose 2 percent in the final three months of the fiscal year. That is far less eyecatching than the 15 percent increase in organic growth reported by LVMH's fashion and leather goods division, and the whopping 31.6 percent gain at Kering's luxury goods division, turbocharged by Gucci.

Burberry has enjoyed a boost from the slump in sterling — both elevating the number of travelling luxury consumers snapping up its trench coats and checked scarves, and translating overseas earnings. But that effect is set to fade. In fact, Burberry expects exchange rates to have a 30 million pound adverse effect on earnings in the year to March 2018, compared with the 128 million benefit in 2017.

New Chief Executive Officer Marco Gobbetti will take up his full post at the beginning of July. That should underpin Burberry's efforts to become more productive and continue to cut its bloated cost base.

But as Gadfly has argued, what Burberry needs is fresh creative impetus. And that might be tricky with outgoing chief executive Christopher Bailey remaining as creative director. Where Burberry has reinvigorated products, such as handbags, it has paid off. A full reinvention in the vein of Gucci's overhaul might be asking too much, but the company needs to do more to make Burberry hip again.

At least Burberry should have plenty of firepower to invest. The 809 million pounds of net cash it ended the year with is a huge amount.

It shouldn't use this as an excuse, though. After all, it just makes it more attractive to a potential acquirer.

With the 2 percent drop in the shares on Thursday, the valuation is roughly in line with the Bloomberg Intelligence luxury peer group. To return to the premium it has often commanded in the past, Burberry needs to implement a makeover, or a predator to barge the front row.

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.

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