The folks at BreakingViews.com make their money by offering trenchant analysis of the world economy. Sometimes they’re very good; other times, they can sound a little bit more like they’re taking a position just to be contrary. Here’s a case in point, they address the growing idea that art is a hedge against inflation.
But art’s fleeting fashion makes it a difficult hedge. Artists who may seem a safe investment now could prove out of favor in a decade. Van Gogh was the art world’s price leader in 1989. Now, on a list ranking artists by auction turnover last year, compiled by Artprice, van Gogh ranks 394th. Just wondering — is that because so very few van Goghs ever come to market?
Unpredictability isn’t art’s only problem as a hedge. Buying a Picasso isn’t like buying gold bullion. Artwork is highly illiquid because items are often one of a kind, with a limited pool of potential buyers. And its transaction costs are exorbitant. Sotheby’s charges fees as high as 25 percent.
The transaction cost issue is a good point. But isn’t the van Gogh fact more a function of the dearth of material available to trade? Do the people at Breaking Views really think there’s a large stock of van Goghs out there that could come to market since most of the best work is already owned by museums?
So it turns out that Breaking Views has some good questions about how an art fund or a collector would execute an art-as-hedge-against-inflation strategy, not whether art does the trick. Because the column also makes this point:
History does show that art prices rise during inflationary periods. The Art 100 Index, compiled by Art Market Research, shot up 130 percent from 1977 to 1982, a period in which prices rose 80 percent. With record amounts of fiscal stimulus being pumped into the system, economists expect inflation to return.
Art Appreciated as Inflation Hedge (Breaking Views)