Let’s face it, financial safe havens have never really been that “safe”.
Despite the name, what may have once been a welcome port in a storm can quickly transform into a dangerous market.
Take gold for example. The traditional safe haven has been relied on by those looking to reduce risk for years now, but has just seen the biggest plunge in price for more than 30 years, wiping $1 trillion off the value of global reserves.
And it’s taken other metals with it; silver and copper are both suffering after frantic selling caused prices to drop. The shares in gold and metal mining companies are faring even worse, with BlackRock Gold & General seeing a 21% drop in value in just one month.
Just a month earlier Cyprus hit the skids. The island in the sun soon became gloomy and overcast, as wealthy investors from overseas found their deposits receiving a nasty blow.
There’s also the bonds situation, with “Bond King” Bill Gross predicting that the US government will pull a similar trick to Cyprus by clipping thousands of bondholders in his latest letter.
Not even the “full faith and credit” of the government can put your mind at ease anymore.
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These events, widely covered by the international media, have seen a flurry of articles published in response, suggesting alternatives to the assets that have long propped up an ailing portfolio. Investors need a new place to turn as the gold rush dries up and safe haven investments become just the opposite.
Many articles, such as those published in the UK’s Guardian newspaper and in the New York Times, have cited art as the emerging market on which to place your money.
Fine art has long been considered more turbulent than many of these struggling asset classes, but recent figures show otherwise.
The art market grew by an impressive 199% over the ten year period to third quarter 2012, according to the 2013 Wealth Report from Knight Frank, which I explored in my last NuWire Investor article.
“There has never been a better time to invest in art. If you do have cash in the bank, it’s probably making very little, but if your investment is managed properly, you can make a good 18 per cent annually by investing in art,” explained Salma Shaheem, head of Middle Eastern markets at art investment house The Fine Art Fund Group (TFAFG), to the Guardian.
“At the very nadir of the recession, art was averaging 8 per cent per annum. It’s a real asset that enjoys a negative correlation to traditional assets as it’s movable and a hedge against inflation. It’s also a unique and enjoyable way to diversify your financial portfolio.”
However, TFAFG’s own CEO and founder Phillip Hoffman admitted: “There are two very different art markets. There’s the rare end, where Christie’s and Sotheby’s are selling works of art at around half a million dollars and upwards, and there’s the not-so-rare end that people aren’t so interested in. You really need to focus at the top end of the art market.”
I always advocate that those looking to purchase collectibles with a view to diversifying should buy the very best they can afford. However, $500,000 is a little out of reach for most of us.
But fine art isn’t the only collectible asset that displays diversification potential. In fact, it’s not even the top performing sector – that title goes to classic cars, which have demonstrated a fantastic 395% increase over the same ten-year period analysed by Knight Frank.
And unlike art, which fell by 5.8% in the first quarter of 2013, according to the Mei Moses World All Art Index, classic cars are continuing to appreciate with record form. The HAGI Index states that the entire market is up 8.5% in 2013 so far.
The 1953 Chevrolet Corvette was selling for $256,000 at the end of 2011, but today it is commanding prices of $360,000 – that’s a 29.1% per annum increase, not bad for two years gallivanting around in a soft-top.
Also ahead of fine art in terms of performance are rare coins and stamps, long-respected collectibles that have proved their worth repeatedly. These are perhaps the most accessible assets for smaller budgets, with the average entry-level purchase starting at around $7,000.
But it’s not all about profits. Diversifying your portfolio with collectibles offers pleasure of ownership that stocks, bonds or alternatives simply cannot provide. In these gloomy economic times, collecting is a welcome shelter from the waves of increasingly disappointing news – a safe-haven all of its own.