December 21, 2018 / 4:06 AM / 4 months ago

Breakingviews - Asia’s beauty giants will apply a western gloss

A model checks her make-up in a pocket mirror in the backstage area before the Shangshou Huatian fashion show by Ren Yi at China Fashion Week in Beijing, China, March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

HONG KONG (Reuters Breakingviews) - Asia’s glamazons can apply a dash of Western colour. Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal and other giants have splashed out on cutting-edge cosmetics in Japan and Korea, seeking clout and innovation. Yet local beauty brands like Shiseido and snail mask supremo Amorepacific have room to grow too: they can reverse the trend.

Asia’s $105 billion beauty industry has attracted plenty of admirers. In October, U.S. healthcare group J&J snapped up shares it did not already own in Japanese skincare firm Ci:z Holdings for $2.1 billion, while Unilever acquired Carver Korea in 2017. From 2014 to 2018, there were 179 beauty deals involving Japanese and Korean targets, for a total of $8.5 billion, according to Refinitiv data — more than double the number of acquisitions in the five years earlier.  

Western giants look to Asia’s younger, growing markets to fight signs of ageing back home. As each one of the ten steps in a typical Korean beauty routine requires a different product —from hydrating serum to lip mask — there are plenty of new ideas to be had and extra revenue to boot. But Asian firms can gain from going the other way, tapping new customers and know-how, for example, in the technology behind personalised creams and make-up.

Shiseido has already taken some steps. Recent acquisitions include MatchCo, which scans customers’ skin tones via its mobile app to deliver customised foundation makeup, and a biometrics company with synthetic skin technology patents. The $24 billion Japanese group has said it wants to be a top-five brand in Europe in 2020, suggesting plenty of ambition. Meanwhile, its EBITDA has nearly doubled to 120 billion yen ($1.1 billion) in the five years to 2017, and its debt burden has come down from 2013 highs of just under 40 percent of equity, to modest levels around 15 percent, leaving plenty of room for manoeuvre.

Others too can do more abroad, like Korea’s Amorepacific, which owns ginseng-based Sulwhasoo. Tensions between Beijing and Seoul battered Korean brands, and Chairman Suh Kyung-bae’s empire has been hit too by cooler consumption in the People’s Republic. Growth outside the region could balance that, while adding more premium, tech-enabled beauty. Time for Asia’s beauty queens to go west.

- This is a Breakingviews prediction for 2019. To see more of our predictions, click reut.rs/2R6H5pG

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