Tuesday, November 3, 2009

When Collecting is Worth It

While art collectors typically collect because they love art, those who collect with the hopes of gaining wealth may want to re-think their investments. According to recent academic studies, long-run returns tend to be lower for art collectibles than for stocks and bonds.

An article from the NY Times discusses the positive and negative aspects of collecting art. The article states,

If you acquire expertise in a particular area, ideally one shown to hold its value over the years, you can enjoy a pastime that is personally and culturally enriching. It still may not be as financially enriching as other activities, but you stand a good chance of making better deals than many other collectors — or at least you can avoid being played for a chump.

The very feature that makes items worth collecting — scarcity verging on uniqueness — is what makes them problematic as investments. It is hard, almost by definition, to determine the value of a one-of-a-kind, or few-of-a-kind, item.

This shortcoming is amplified by the likelihood that the interests of amateur and professional collectors are often in conflict. In stocks and bonds, by contrast, portfolio managers do better for themselves when they do better for you.

The article dispenses advice on how to be a successful collector and suggests dealing at an auction or hiring an advisor.

On a positive note, the article suggests that in-demand items (rare items and those of high quality) are always in demand, and that being able to look at valuable pieces of art may outweigh some of the monetary cons.

Certain artists tend to be “tried-and-true wealth holders,” Ms. Gyorgy said, including Old Masters, Impressionists and Abstract Expressionists like Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.
Their work is out of most investors’ price ranges, of course, and there is no assurance that they will outperform conventional, lower-maintenance assets. But there is one advantage that artworks and some other collectibles have over stocks and bonds: You can look at them.

This consumption value, as academics and specialists in collectibles call it, is what makes them desirable and valuable in the first place, and it accrues to their owners for as long as they possess them. That is why collectors are urged to focus on art appreciation, not capital appreciation.