Art Collectors Pawn Masterpieces To Meet Market Rout Margin Calls

Earlier this year, Picasso’s Women of Algiers (Version O), set an auction house record when it sold for $179,365,000, including the house's premium, prompting us to remark that if you were looking for signs of runaway inflation, Christie’s may be a good place to start. We remarked further: 

The nearly $200 million price tag for the “riot of colors focused on scantily dressed women” is, according to WSJ, reflective of the work’s “trophy” status which it earned as a result of its “ownership pedigree”. Translated from high-end art world parlance to plain English: for billionaires who have seen their obscene fortunes balloon under monetary policies designed to inflate financial assets at the expense of everything else (including market stability), purchasing art affords the buyer an even greater opportunity to “boast” than hoarding $100 million homes because after all, there a lot of mega mansions, but there’s only one vibrant, multi-hued Picasso riff on a Delacroix, so really, $180 million is a bargain, especially when most of the purchase price will be recouped by S&P 2,500, or SHCOMP 6,000 (depending on the nationality of the unnamed buyer).


Well that was then, and this is now, and after the close of trading in Shanghai and New York on Monday, the SHCOMP was sitting at 3,209 and the S&P was at 1,893, prompting some of the collectors who had so willingly forked over tens and even hundreds of millions for "riots of colors" on canvas were suddenly forced to consider pawning these treasures for cash as the margin calls rolled in.

Here’s Bloomberg with more:

Art dealer Asher Edelman’s vacation in Comporta, Portugal, was interrupted Monday by inquiries from clients as global equities plunged.


Some asked about borrowing against their art collections from Edelman’s art-financing company ArtAssure Ltd. Others wanted to sell works. Everyone was looking for the same thing: liquidity.


“There are many margin calls,” Edelman said in a phone interview, adding that no deals were struck yet.


Boutique lenders said they were unusually busy in late August, when most of the art world is on holiday. Global equities and the art market have become intertwined as art prices have soared and more wealthy buyers view their collections as an investment they can borrow against.


“Ten years ago no one in the art market paid close attention to these corrections in the stock market,” said Elizabeth von Habsburg, managing director of Winston Art Group, an independent art appraisal and advisory firm. “Now clients respond immediately.”


“When liquidity leaves the marketplace people will consider art loans as an option to replace volatile margin securities loans,” said John Arena, senior credit executive for Bank of America’s Private Wealth Management Business. He said his group -- which didn’t see a spike in art loan inquiries Monday -- doesn’t limit its credit exposure to art loans during market turmoil.


Edelman said his clients asked about the borrowing terms against works ranging from Iranian artifacts to Andy Warhol paintings. 

And while some clients were content to borrow, others apparently opted for firesales, causing dealers to line up bank financing in order to take advantage of opportunistic prices. 

Collectors aren’t the only ones looking for liquidity with art-backed loans. Art Finance Partners, a New York-based firm, was contacted on Monday by dealers looking to borrow money to close private sales.


In one instance, market uncertainty spurred the seller of a painting by Camille Pissaro, with the asking price of about $500,000, to close the transaction with a dealer, who will use a loan to buy the work, said Andrew Rose, president of Art Finance Partners.


With the deadlines to consign art for the November auctions coming up, some collectors have decided to sell works rather than wait.


“Some are pulling the trigger,” Rose said. “People want certainty.”

So it would appear that China, via the pressure its collapsing stock market and currency shocker have put on global equities, has single-handedly reversed the fortunes of the hyperinflating high-end art world as collectors' collective scramble for liquidity is creating a buyer's market and indeed, as one expert told Bloomberg, "hot emerging artists whose prices exploded in the past year [have] recently started to cool off."

In other words, even Picasso isn't immune from exported Chinese deflation.