Today’s financial world is a tough place for the average person but paradise for rich guys. As easy money raises asset prices, the owners of those assets make effortless profits. Then they buy expensive toys and trophy properties. Hence the recent boom in fine art, high-end real estate, yachts and private jets.
But like all financial trends, this one has a limit, and that limit is now in sight. The 1%, it seems, is rolling over:
(Bloomberg) – Sotheby’s is offering employees voluntary buyouts to cut costs after a drop in third-quarter revenue grabbed more attention from the company’s investors than its largest ever semiannual auction season.
The auction house told employees in an e-mail Friday that if not enough employees make use of the buyouts, it may have to resort to layoffs. Sotheby’s didn’t say how many jobs it plans to cut.
Shares of Sotheby slumped as much as 16 percent this week after the firm reported a 9 percent decline in third-quarter revenue.
“Sotheby’s costs of doing business – increased staff, more expensive catalogue production, huge marketing and promotional costs, etc. – have to be balanced against the declining revenue from commissions,” said David Nash, co-owner of Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in New York and former head of Impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s.
(CNBC) – San Francisco homes are still some of the priciest in the nation, but sales of those houses are showing significant weakness. September sales were down 19.5 percent in the city from a year ago, according to the California Association of Realtors.
"We’re going through a kind of correction, as we have a lot of new developments being built right now. The supply is definitely on the rise,” said Justin Fichelson, an agent at Climb Real Estate Group in San Francisco. “The market is not going to continue going up like we’ve seen in the past two years, because prices are already high.”
(Bloomberg) – Prices of homes valued at 5 million pounds ($7.6 million) or more fell 11.5 percent on a per square foot basis in the third quarter from a year earlier, according to Richard Barber, a director at broker W.A. Ellis LLP, a unit of Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. Sales volumes across all homes in the best parts of central London dropped 14 percent in the period, the realtor said on Thursday.
“The bubble may already have burst” for the most expensive homes, Barber said. Now, “36 percent of all properties currently on the market across prime central London are being marketed at a lower price than they were originally listed at, with the average reduction in price being 8.5 percent.”
(Bloomberg) – Global long-term spending on private jets is starting to slow for the first time since 2009 as slumping commodity prices sap demand in emerging markets, according to an industry forecast.
Deliveries for the 11 years ending in 2025 will be valued at $270 billion, Honeywell International Inc. said Sunday in its annual survey of the luxury-aircraft market. That’s down 3.6 percent from last year’s comparable projection, and snapped a streak of gains since the last U.S. recession ended.
The decline reflects weakness in Brazil, Russia, India and China, the group known as the BRIC countries, and the impact of political conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, according to Brian Sill, chief of Honeywell’s business and general aviation unit. Delays in some new plane models are also pushing back demand, he said.
Jet shipments will drop 2.6 percent to 9,200 planes, according to Honeywell, whose forecast had predicted fluctuations in deliveries but no drop in the planes’ list value in the post-recession years. Large planes that had spearheaded the recovery are now seeing slower growth.
“We’re just slogging along,” said Janine Iannarelli, president of Par Avion Ltd., a Houston based plane brokerage. “There is a shortage of buyers, there’s limited activity and prices keep correcting.”
So the rich are becoming less rich? To an extent, yes. Recent declines in commodity prices and emerging market debt have no doubt taken a bite out of some big portfolios. Meanwhile hedge funds, the preferred investment management vehicle of the uber-wealthy, have done badly for the past couple of years, with some high-profile implosions generating headlines.
These disappointments have lowered the net worth of some big players and made others more cautious. Hence the lessened demand for the most pretentious assets.
The impact on the global economy? Almost certainly bad, since the 1% are the marginal buyers of so many reference assets like blue-chip stocks and government bonds. To the extent that they grow cautious, the bid for a lot of things will be lower, cutting corporate profits, equity valuations and high-end asset prices.
Put another way, when the only healthy part of an already-impaired system turns negative, everyone will feel the resulting pain.