Monday, October 31, 2011

Art & finance: the rise of "art loans" for the well-heeled clients of private banks

NEW YORK. Bloomberg recently reported that former hedge-fund manager Michael Steinhardt secured a "very cheap" loan from JPMorgan Chase Bank by pledging a number of the works in his fine art collection (estimated to be worth over $200 million) as collateral. While the use of art as collateral to obtain finance has been on the rise for some time now (Steinhardt joins the ranks of other managers such as Nelson Peltz and Steven A. Cohen), it is hardly indicative of a widespread trend in the banking sector towards lending against art. While it is true that art assets have flared quite way in the economic downtown and consecrated their place as an alternative form of investment, this is largely true of mostly "blue chip" works i.e., the Picassos, Pollocks, Warhols etc. that form part of the fine art collections of a handful of high-net-worth individuals. For the most part, investing in art is risky and expensive (transaction costs are too often overlooked) and my mantra remains that people should buy art because they love it, not in the expectation of hefty returns. Still, it's interesting to see that a growing number of banks are offering their "well-heeled" clients the possibility of structuring loans in this way. It makes perfect sense because the kind of art we're talking about in these cases really is "a stable form of collateral," as Suzanne Gyorgy of Citi Private Bank describes it. "When you look at our client base," Gyorgy goes on to say, "it's savvy business people that for the most part are using the liquidity from the art loan to invest back in their businesses."

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