Saturday, 21 October 2017

Hong Kong’s Subdued Spring Auction Sales: Too Few Good Lots or Too Many Auction Houses? By Enid Tsui

China’s ultra-rich are still buying luxury homes in Hong Kong and the Hang Seng index is up 16 per cent so far this year. So why is the local auctions market so subdued?

The second round of spring auctions was held over the last week of May and almost all the major auction houses reported flat or lower results compared with last year’s – just as Sotheby’s and Poly Auction reported lacklustre sales in April when they had their spring sales.

On May 31, a celadon-glazed “double dragon” amphora from the Qing dynasty reign of Emperor Yongzheng was sold for HK$140.5 million, becoming the most expensive monochrome Chinese porcelain sold in auctions.

Christie’s also sold Zhang Daqian’s Ancient Temples Amidst Clouds (1965) for a whopping HK$102.5 million in a single-lot sale with its own catalogue. But it’s a far cry from the HK$270.7 million that Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian paid for Zhang’s Peach Blossom Spring (1982), another of his splashed-ink landscapes, a year ago.

Beijing’s crackdown on corrupt officials has probably had an impact, for they, or their bribers, definitely bought through auctions. But capital controls should also have made a dent in the luxury property market and other sectors popular with Chinese investors.
“I don’t think they have much of an effect on the sale of high-value lots in auctions,” said William Chak Kin-man, a veteran antiques dealer based in Hollywood Road. “The ultra-rich have so many assets outside the country they cannot be affected. I think it’s because there are too many mediocre lots in the sales. When something really good appears on the market, people are happy to pay for it.”
Guillaume Cerutti, new chief executive officer at Christie’s, told the Post that he expected the situation to improve this year.
Bonhams, which has become more low-profile these days, saw quite lively bidding at its recent sales of Chinese paintings and works of art, he said.
“The real problem for auction houses is competition,” Chak said. “Thirty auction houses were active during so-called Asia Week in Hong Kong this month. Last year, it was 20. The market is being stretched thinner. I think collectors will appreciate having more time to look around and not feel quite so pressurised.”

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