Picture: REUTERS/ERIC GAILLARD
Picture: REUTERS/ERIC GAILLARD

Paris — L’Oréal shares tumbled as a drop in North American sales raised concerns that a makeup boom fueled by beauty bloggers and selfies has lost steam.

The stock fell as much as 4.9% in Paris trading, the most in three years. The sales decline in a crucial region came even as demand from China lifted the world’s biggest maker of beauty products to its highest first-half growth in more than 10 years.

CEO Jean-Paul Agon kindled anxiety by saying that both luxury makeup brands and mass-market ones experienced a slowdown in North America, resulting in a market that was “flat at best”. He said not to expect the trend to improve before next year.

“We are really over-relying on makeup,” Agon said on a conference call, adding that the company lost some market share in the category, which makes up more than half of its US sales. “We really intend to bounce back in the US, but it may take some time.”

Second-quarter sales rose 6.8% on a comparable basis, L’Oréal  said late on Tuesday. But North America — where its brands such as Maybelline dominate drugstore shelves — recorded a 1.1% decline.

Bare faces

Makeup has driven growth for the cosmetics industry as online influencers has inspired a generation of consumers to make trying new makeup looks a hobby and as the selfie craze gives them a reason to stay camera-ready.

A recent change toward more minimalist looks will challenge L’Oréal’s return to growth in the US, according to Agon, though it may also bring some unexpected benefits as skincare sales boom.

“The makeup looks that were really in fashion four or five years ago changed, and now it’s more a kind of natural look,” Agon said. “The good thing is that we are also the number-one skincare manufacturer in the world.”

Boost from China

L’Oréal also faces mounting competition from younger upstarts: the rise of social media-savvy start-ups such as Glossier; celebrity-fronted brands such as LVMH’s Fenty Beauty by Rihanna' and organic products such as Juice Beauty mean fewer American consumers are headed for the retail outlets where L’Oréal has dominated shelves for decades.

Growth last quarter slowed at the consumer-products division, even as the company took steps such as rebranding its Garnier product line with a focus on organic and natural products.

High-end products fared much better. Sales in the luxury division selling Lancôme Absolue moisturiser and Yves Saint Laurent concealer grew 12% last quarter, with the company citing China as driving demand. Clients in China also boosted sales of luxury companies LVMH and Burberry in the latest quarter, even as the country reported its slowest economic growth in nearly three decades.

The shares declined even though L’Oréal said it plans to buy back and cancel as much as €750m worth of stock during the second half.

Bloomberg