April 14, 2020
Wealthy art owners are raising cash from their collections amid the looming recession

Wealthy art owners are raising cash from their collections amid the looming recession

Seized painting "Head of a Young Woman" by Pablo Picasso
Seized painting “Head of a Young Woman” by Pablo Picasso. 
Douane Fraçaise/French Customs Office
  • Some wealthy art collectors are raising cash from their art assets amid the looming recession.
  • Investing in art has long been popular among the wealthy because the category is considered a “value-preserving asset class” that has a lower call risk than assets that are priced daily, such as securities.
  • “As equities tumbled and then, as concern and the consequences of the pandemic started to become apparent, some clients [are] looking for fast capital to meet capital/margin calls on their investment portfolios,” Freya Stewart, CEO of Fine Art Group, told Business Insider.
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Some wealthy people are looking at using their art assets as collateral to obtain hard cash amid the coronavirus pandemic, Business Insider has found, based on interviews with multiple sources in the art world.

Elizabeth von Habsburg, managing director of Winston Art Group in New York, told Business Insider that people are looking to raise money from their art due to a mixture of “economic disruption and lowered interest rates” in the financial markets, giving clients “the opportunity to undertake, or add to, their loans collateralized by art.”

Athena Art Finance in New York told Business Insider that the company was in “active discussions” with various art collectors and investors looking for liquidity, while London-based Fine Art Group said it has also seen an uptick in inquiries for financing against high art and jewelry this past month.

Fine Art Group CEO Freya Stewart told Business Insider the uptick is because “cash is king” — especially in “times of volatility and uncertainty.”

stock market
Experts say the US is headed toward a recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. In the past three weeks, more than 16.5 million Americans have lost their jobs. 
Getty Images / Kiyoshi Ota

“As equities tumbled and then, as concern and the consequences of the pandemic started to become apparent, some clients were looking for fast capital to meet capital/margin calls on their investment portfolios,” Stewart said. “Others simply want to secure capital now to ensure they are financially well positioned over the coming months and beyond.”

To be sure, there is evidence of that this activity is having a counter effect: wealthy people, collectors, and galleries sensing an opportunity and buying more art than before.  Bloomberg’s Katya Kazakina and Tom Metcalf reported that wealthy people have been buying art at massive rates to shift their stock into “real assets.”

Art financing has long been popular with investors, because art is seen as a “value-preserving asset class,” as noted by Deloitte’s 2019 Art & Finance report. Artwork in general isn’t necessarily impacted by the risks commonly associated with the financial market, which makes it a lower call risk as an investment, Kazakina and Metcalf reported.

For example, it took the S&P 500 five years to recover from the 2008 recession, while it took the Artnet Index for the Top 100 Artists only three years. During the 2015 and 2016 market sell-offs, though both the S&P and Artnet Index took a hit, Deloitte found that, when broken down by price bracket, high end works of art worth at least $1 million were able to lead a comeback in some art categories.

Since art is regarded as being a luxury item, it often rebounds and grows faster than traditional assets do. This is especially true for blue chip artists such as Picasso, Dali, Pollock and Warhol, whose works have been proven to hold value over time, even during economic crises.

Picasso Le Repos Sotheby's
A Sotheby’s employee places a painting by Pablo Picasso entitled “Le Repos” on the wall during a UK preview of the “Impressionist and Modern Art” sale on April 9, 2018, in London. 
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

“Over the past 10 years, art has become recognized as an acceptable asset class for banks to lend against,” Scott Lynn, founder of the art investment company Masterworks, told Business Insider. “We estimate that there is more than $10 billion in leverage secured by major art collections. Most art loans begin at $10 million and exceed $1 billion in collateral value.”

As a recession looms, the art world waits to see what’s next

Interest rates for art lending have fallen dramatically over the past few years, attracting more companies and art collectors that are looking to secure loans. In fact, von Habsburg said that last year alone, Winston Art Group appraised more than $3 billion worth of art to be used as collateralized loans.

“The benefits now as in the past are many — it is a way to make that asset class work as a financial tool; it is an alternate source of liquidity in a normally rather illiquid asset,” she said. “For those collectors or dealers who have large stocks of stored art that is not being hung or transacted, that art generates funds rather than sits as a static asset; and the art can be held and hung on collectors’ walls even while being used as collateral.”

Andy Warhol
Art shows, fairs, and private and public auctions have been canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. Museums around the world, such as the Louvre and the Met, have also closed, as have the galas usually thrown to help raise money for them. 
Getty Images

But there could be a negative side to using art as collateral, she said, which could become more apparent over the next few months. Especially because this season’s art shows and auctions have been postponed, while private sales have started to slow down.

“The current situation, it is not just a financial crisis.  It is also a crisis of the health of so many people worldwide,” she continued. “I would imagine that the art market will be slower to recover than after the 2008 financial crisis, as galleries go out of business, leaving many artists without gallery representation, auction houses retrench, furloughing wide swaths of specialists across lower revenue areas of the market, and sales remain ‘virtual’ for longer periods of time.”

Art Auction
Naomi Baigell, managing director of Marketing and Client Relations at Athena Art Finance, told Business Insider that “Art holds a special place in the world of assets,” and “Collectors tend to be very personally committed to the artists they collect, to their works and to the inherent and immeasurable cultural and social values they represent.” 
SeventyFour / Shutterstock

Meanwhile, as a recession continues to threaten the global economy, von Habsburg predicted that some art portfolios, such as contemporary or modern art, might need additional collateral to “maintain their ratios of loan to value.” But, she said, this could prove difficult for those who do not have excess work to place into the portfolio.”Works may have to be sold to cover the debt, and the market has a sharp nose for works being sold under duress, which can lead to lower than normal financial results,” according to von Habsburg.

Cynthia Sachs, chief investment officer of Athena Art Finance, somewhat agreed with von Habsburg.

“Art collectors are waiting until the public part of the market opens to sell their art, while art investors are using this time to find interesting stressed opportunities,” Sachs told Business Insider. “This global pandemic is clearly a new paradigm for all asset classes. We don’t have any precedent or foresight in our recent history to understand the true long-term effects of such a crisis on the art market.”

(The first paragraph has been updated to reflect that some wealthy art owners are using their collections as collateral to raise cash.)