Art Market Dip Last Year Reflects Lack of Supply, Not Demand - Kanebridge News
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Art Market Dip Last Year Reflects Lack of Supply, Not Demand

Sun, Mar 17, 2024 7:00amGrey Clock 3 min

The global market for art may have been softer last year against a more volatile economic backdrop, but trends detailed within the latest annual report from Art Basel and UBS released earlier this week continue to show collectors are willing to buy.

Scanning a chart within the report of sales since 2009 reveals an ebb-and-flow in the overall market, but surprising consistency in the value of transactions and an uptick in volume.

The year-to-year differences, such as the 4% dip in market value to US$65 billion last year, are mostly driven by the number and outcome of big-ticket sales, which declined across auction houses and galleries in 2023.

How many high-value works of art come to market in a given year, however, often has less to do with buying interest from collectors during shaky economic conditions and more to do with the willingness of sellers to part with paintings or sculptures during a time of perceived weakness, according to Matthew Newton, art advisory specialist at UBS Family Office Solutions in New York.

“I don’t think we see an unwillingness to buy those works when they do come to market,” Newton says.

When the economy is weak, estates with less discretion over timing often are the main consignors of expensive art. For example, last fall in New York, Sotheby’s sold works owned by Emily Fisher Landau , a long-time patron who amassed a collection bursting with masterpieces that hadn’t appeared at an auction before.

Sotheby’s single-owner auction of the Fisher Landau collection led to the US$139.4 million sale of Pablo Picasso’s Femme à la montre (the second highest price for a Picasso work at auction); the US$41 million sale of Jasper Johns’ Flags ;  and the record US$18.7 million sale of Agenes Martin’s Grey Stone II —prices that were within or exceeded expectations.

“People are still willing to make trophy purchases,” Newton says. “I don’t think there’s a lack of demand, it’s about a lack of supply.”

Rising interest rates since 2022 arguably could be another factor in slower high-end sales, since wealthy individuals finance about 29% of their art collections, on average, while the ultra-wealthy (those with a net worth above US$50 million) finance as much as 39%, according to a separate report on global collecting trends published late last year from Art Basel and UBS.

But Newton doesn’t believe higher rates played a significant role in the art market last year. The wealthy typically borrow money for business or investment opportunities; if they have a US$500 million art collection on their walls, borrowing against it can be a good source of liquidity. Any impact it has on the market would be “within the margin of error,” Newton says.

Another chart in the report tracks sales growth from 2009 through 2023 in five segments of the auction market, from works sold below US$50,000 to those achieving US$10 million or more. The results show the performance of most works of art that are sold—that is, those that fall below the US$10 million level—has been “relatively flat over a decade plus,” Newton says. “It’s really those works that are over US$10 million … that’s where we see growth in the art market.”

At auction, the US$10 million-plus segment fell a substantial 25% in 2023 from the previous year, but overall, the sales trend for those ultra-expensive paintings since 2009 has been on an upward trajectory. That’s no accident, considering the population of billionaires who fuel those sales has also continued to rise, with their wealth doubling over the last 10 years to about US$13.1 billion, according to the report.

“It’s a relatively very small group of people who can spend over US$10 million on artwork,” Newton says. Of those who can afford to, not everyone does, meaning a few individuals can alter total sales for the whole market.

In part, that’s because global art sales are relatively small even at US$65 billion. Consider the global private-equity market—another place where the wealthiest individuals place their money—was estimated to reach US$16.3 trillion last year, according to London data firm Preqin.

“$65 billion … that’s obviously a lot of money,” he says. “On the other hand, that’s the entire art market—it’s like less than half the net worth of a few individuals.”

Newton says he often reminds clients that not that much art that exists in the world is sold. “What is traded is a very, very small percentage of the work that’s out there.”


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Some chocolatiers and coffee makers say they will have to pass on the extra cost to consumers

Sun, Apr 14, 2024 4 min

Global prices for cocoa and coffee are surging as severe weather events hamper production in key regions, raising questions from farm to table over the long-term damage climate change could have on soft commodities.

Cultivating cocoa and coffee requires very specific temperature, water and soil conditions. Now, more frequent heat waves, heavy rainfalls and droughts are damaging harvests and crippling supplies amid ever growing demand from customers worldwide.

“Adverse weather conditions, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, have played an important role in sending several food commodities sharply higher,” said Ole Hansen , head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank.

The spikes in prices are a threat to coffee and chocolate makers across the globe.

Swiss consumer-goods giant Nestlé was able to pass only a fraction of the cocoa price increase to customers last year, and it may need to adjust pricing in the future due to persistently high prices, a spokesperson said.

Italian coffee maker Lavazza reported revenue of more than $3 billion for last year, but said profitability was hit by soaring coffee bean prices, particularly for green and Robusta coffee, and its decision to limit price increases.

Likewise, chocolatier Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Spruengli said in its 2023 results that weather and climate conditions played a major role in the global shortage of cocoa beans that led to historically high prices. The company had to lift the sales prices of its products and said it would need to further raise them this year and next if cocoa prices remain at current levels.

Hershey ’s chief executive, Michele Buck , said in February that historic cocoa prices are expected to limit earnings growth this year, and that the company plans to use “every tool in its toolbox,” including price hikes, to manage the impact on business.

In West Africa, where about 70% of global cocoa is produced, powerhouses Ivory Coast and Ghana are facing catastrophic harvests this season as El Niño—the pattern of above-average sea surface temperatures—led to unseasonal heavy rainfalls followed by strong heat waves.

Extreme heat has weakened cocoa trees already damaged from heavy rainfall at the end of last year, according to Morningstar DBRS’s Aarti Magan and Moritz Steinbauer. The rain also worsened road conditions, disrupting cocoa bean deliveries to export ports.

The International Cocoa Organization—a global body composed of cocoa producing and consuming member countries—said in its latest monthly report that it expects the global supply deficit to widen to 374,000 metric tons in the 2023-24 season, from 74,000 tons last season. Global cocoa supply is anticipated to decline by almost 11% to 4.449 million tons when compared with 2022-23.

“Significant declines in production are expected from the top producing countries as they are envisaged to feel the detrimental effect of unfavourable weather conditions and diseases,” the organisation said.

While the effects of climate change are severe, other serious structural issues are also hitting West African cocoa production in the short- to medium-term. Illegal mining poses a significant threat to cocoa farms in Ghana, destroying arable land and poisoning water supplies, and the problem is becoming increasingly relevant in the Ivory Coast, according to BMI.

The issues are being magnified by deforestation carried out to increase cocoa production. Since 1950, Ivory Coast has lost around 90% of its forests, while Ghana has lost around 65% over the same period. This has driven farmers to areas less suited to cocoa cultivation like grasslands, increasing the amount of labor required and bringing further downside risks to the harvest, the research firm said.

The Ivory Coast’s cocoa mid-crop harvest—which officially starts in April and runs until September—is expected to fall to 400,000-500,000 tons from 600,000-620,000 tons last year, with weather expected to play a crucial role in shaping the market balance for the season, ING analysts said, citing estimates from the country’s cocoa regulator. Ghana’s cocoa board also forecasts a slump in the harvest for this season to as low as 422,500 tons, the poorest in more than 20 years, according to BMI.

Neither regulator responded to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, extreme droughts in Southeast Asia—particularly in Vietnam and Indonesia—are resulting in lower coffee bean harvests, hurting producers’ output and global exports. Coffee inventories have recovered somewhat in recent weeks but remain low in recent historical terms. Robusta coffee has seen a severe deterioration in export expectations, while Arabica coffee is expected to return to a relatively narrow surplus this year, said Charles Hart, senior commodities analyst at BMI.

The global coffee benchmark prices, London Robusta futures, are up by 15% on-month to $3,825 a ton. Arabica coffee prices have also surged 17% over the last month to $2.16 a pound in lockstep with Robusta—its highest level since October 2022. Cocoa prices have more than tripled on-year over these supply crunch fears, and risen 49% in the last month alone to $10,050 a ton.

“Cocoa trees are particularly sensitive to weather and require very specific conditions to grow, this means that cocoa prices are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as drought and periods of intense heat, as well as the longer-term impact of climate change,” said Lucrezia Cogliati, associate commodities analyst at BMI.

Cogliati said global cocoa consumption is expected to outpace production for the third consecutive season, with intense seasonal West African winds and plant diseases contributing to significant declines.

Consumers hoping for a return to cheaper prices for life’s little luxuries in the midterm may also be in for a bitter surprise.

“There is no sugarcoating it—consumers will ultimately be faced with higher chocolate prices, products that contain less chocolate, and/or shrinking product sizes,” Morningstar’s Magan and Steinbauer said in a report.

“We anticipate consumers could respond by searching widely for promotional discounts, trading down to value-based chocolate and confectionary products from premium products, switching to private-label from branded products and/or reducing volumes altogether.”

The record-breaking rally for cocoa and coffee is likely more than just a flash in the pan, according to Citi analysts, as adverse weather conditions and strong demand trends are likely to support prices in the months ahead. The U.S. bank estimates Arabica coffee futures in a range of $1.88-$2.15 a pound for the current year, but said projections could be lifted if the outlook for 2024-25 tightens further.

At the heart of it all, climate change is set to play a major role, as the impact of extreme weather events could exacerbate the pressure on cocoa and coffee supplies, according to market watchers.

“I don’t expect prices to remain at these levels, but if we continue to see more unusual weather as a result of global warming then we certainly could see more volatility in terms of cocoa yields going forward, which could impact pricing,” said Paul Joules, commodities analyst at Rabobank.