News-Antique.com - Feb 04,2016 - Over the last few years, a newly-created class of uber-wealthy Chinese collectors has transformed the market, snapping up everything from contemporary art and ancient porcelain to rare stamps and vintage wines.
But with a faltering economy, growing debt, falling stock prices and a potential property bubble about to burst, a growing number of people are asking the question:
"Have Chinese collectors stopped buying?"
It's fair to say the market is sending mixed messages.
Figures released on January 18 showed the Chinese economy slowing to its lowest rate of growth in 25 years – yet just two days earlier Spink China set new records by conducting the biggest rare stamp auction ever held in Asia.
International auction companies such as Heritage are opening new offices in Hong Kong to much fanfare, whilst major collectibles dealers like Stanley Gibbons are financially floundering, and laying the blame at the feet of the collapsing Chinese market.
Reports show sales of Chinese art falling around the world, yet Chinese billionaires keep popping up to spend world-record prices on Impressionist paintings and gigantic blue diamonds.
In November, the country's central bank unexpectedly cut interest rates to 2.75% for first time since 2012, in an attempt to revive the economy. And having bounced back from the crash in June 2015, the Chinese stock market began 2016 in disastrous fashion, with trading halted on January 4th and 7th after the market fell 7%.
Historically, low interest rates and plummeting stock prices have been amongst the main reasons investors turned their attentions to alternative asset classes such as art - so could we be about to see Chinese collectors flexing their muscles and diversifying their portfolios once more?
In a word - perhaps.
Like everything else when it comes to China, the situation is complicated.
It's doubtful we're about to see an immediate return to the peak of 2011, when China briefly overtook the U.S as the world's biggest art market, and Chinese artists Zhang Daqian and Qi Baishi topped the list as the world's biggest-selling artists.
That particular boom led to a pretty spectacular bust less than 12 months later, as sales across all categories contracted sharply by around 43% after half a decade of supercharged (and unsustainable) growth.
Since then the market has struggled to bounce back, and the last official Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report, published by Artnet and the China Association of Auctioneers (CAA) in September 2015, did little to cheer anyone up.
It reported that between 2013 and 2014, sell-through rates of Chinese Art dropped from 52% to 48%; the number of lots sold above ¥10 million ($1.6 million) dropped from 429 to 389; and 63% of all those lots sold for over ¥10 million were left unpaid or only partially paid, an annual non-payment increase of 22%.
The figures for the first half of 2015 were equally grim, with auction sales in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland dropped a startling 30% against the same period the previous year.