CHARENTON-LE-PONT, France—EssilorLuxottica (Reuters: ESLX.PA) returned to growth during first quarter 2021, posting consolidated revenue totaling €4,060 million, a year-on-year increase of 7.3 percent compared to the first quarter of 2020 (+14.3 percent at constant exchange rates). Consolidated revenue grew by 1.9 percent at constant exchange rates compared to the first quarter of 2019. “EssilorLuxottica had a strong start to the year. While the pandemic continued to put up a fight, we fought harder, delivering significant revenue growth that surpassed pre-pandemic levels and met the structural need for good vision. Our passionate employees were not deterred by the adversity—they remained agile and focused on improving the unique journey taken by our customers and consumers,” said Francesco Milleri and Paul du Saillant, respectively CEO and deputy CEO of EssilorLuxottica.

“In the first quarter, we successfully capitalized on the rebound in the U.S. and China, while leveraging our brands, product innovation, distribution and digitalization everywhere in the world.

“Our integration gained further momentum and we made good progress in several areas, while continuing to make new bolt-on acquisitions. Our sustainability, social impact and inclusive business agendas remained at the heart of our mission and business model.

“The position we’re in today gives us greater confidence in our ability to outperform the industry,” Milleri and du Saillant concluded.

First quarter revenue for most of EssilorLuxottica’s main businesses surpassed the pre-pandemic levels of first quarter 2019, when calculated at constant exchange rates. The company noted the solid performance of its prescription eyeglass and optical retail businesses, which account for about 75 percent of revenue. Sunglass demand bounced back in North America, with Sunglass Hut posting double digit comparable store sales in March compared to 2019.

E-commerce was up 61 percent versus 2019 and 47 percent versus 2020 at constant exchange rates. In Lenses & Optical Instruments, EssilorLuxottica cited the successful launches of Stellest lenses in the myopia control category, Varilux Comfort Max progressive lenses and the Ray-Ban Authentic offer in sun and clear prescription; the rollout of Transitions Signature GEN 8 photochromic lenses as well as AVA lenses associated Vision-R 800 measuring instrument.

By geography, North America showed strong signs of demand recovery, visible across all of the company’s channels. Greater China, now EssilorLuxottica’s second biggest market in revenue, and Australia materially contributed to growth. Europe and most developing markets lagged behind, due to new restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Wholesale division posted a 10.5 percent decrease in revenue compared with the first quarter of 2019 (-4.7 percent at constant exchange rates.) The sun category remained soft while optical consolidated the growth trajectory started in the third quarter of 2020.

North America remained the main driver and experienced a sequential acceleration compared with the fourth quarter of 2020, up high single digits in the period at constant exchange rates compared with the first quarter of 2019. Conversely, Europe decelerated, with new restrictions affecting the performance of the sun category in particular, EssilorLuxottica said.

EssilorLuxottica's retail business was down 1.1 percent in revenue compared to the first quarter of 2019, but up 4.0 percent at constant exchange rates. While new restrictions caused additional store closures in specific areas and periods compared with the end of 2020 (in particular in Brazil and Europe in March), the company kept opened slightly more than 90 percent of its total 6,736 owned locations worldwide throughout the entire quarter.

Adjusted comparable store sales were flat compared to the first quarter of 2019, after a marked recovery in March mostly driven by North America. Direct e-commerce continued to grow fast at constant exchange rates up 124 percent versus the first quarter of 2019 and 100 percent versus the same period of 2020.

Among regions, in North America the retail division was up high single digit compared with the first quarter of 2019 at constant exchange rates, boosted by buoyant consumer demand not only in optical but also in the revamped sun business. Asia was slightly positive thanks to the Australian optical and sun categories more than offsetting the negative performance in the rest of the region. Europe and Latin America were dragged down by new restrictions.

The company ended the quarter with €9.3 billion in cash and short-term investments and a net debt of €2.6 billion, including leases liabilities, compared to a net debt of €3.0 billion at the end of 2020.

EssilorLuxottica management said it expects to outperform the eyecare and eyewear industry in 2021. The company aims to deliver a performance that is at least comparable to 2019 in both revenue and adjusted operating profit margin, at constant exchange rates.

Responding to a question about the status of EssilorLuxottica’s planned acquisition of European optical retailer GrandVision during a call yesterday with financial analysts, Paul du Saillant said "The strategic merit of this acquisition is confirmed.” But he noted that as the matter is still in arbitration, adding “by nature, this is a confidential process and we cannot comment any further on the status or timeline."