Christie's $335 Million Hong Kong Sale Is 16% Below Estimate

  • Economic uncertainty, anti-corruption drive hurt China demand
  • Sales slump reflects wider slowdown in luxury spending

Christie’s International Plc sold HK$2.6 billion ($335 million) at its six-day Autumn sales in Hong Kong that ended Wednesday night, 16 percent below what the auction house had estimated it would earn, as Chinese buyers held back on purchases of contemporary art, ceramics and wine.

That compares with the HK$3.82 billion it earned in similar sales two years ago, almost twice the pre-sale estimate of HK$2 billion at the time, when mainland clients bid up prices on everything from Qing dynasty porcelain to Patek Philippe watches.

"In the past few years, a lot of buying has been as investment, and when there is uncertainty and because of the economy people are not buying," said Daniel Eskenazi, a London-based Chinese antiques dealer who attended the sales but didn’t purchase anything.

The slowdown in the auction market reflects a wider downturn in luxury spending by mainland Chinese due to weakening economic growth and the government’s austerity and anti-corruption drives, which have caused retail high-end sales in Hong Kong to plunge.

No Top Buyers

Francois Curiel, chairman for Asia-Pacific at Christie’s, attributed the softer sales to the absence of top-quality Chinese paintings and antiques on offer this season as well as the lack of big-name buyers such as Liu Yiqian, Ned Johnson and Eskenazi.

“Whenever we have masterpieces they sell," Curiel said. 

Johnson is Fidelity Investments chairman and one of the most important art collectors in Boston. Liu, who owns two private museums in Shanghai, used his Centurion credit card to pay for a $45 million Tibetan thangka at Christie’s in Hong Kong in November 2014, and paid $170.4 million for an Amedeo Modigliani painting at Christie’s in New York last month.

While buyers from mainland China have dominated sales in all categories in the past, Christie’s noted in a press release that international purchasers, from 30 countries, were more of a force in its watches sales.

Phillips auction house, which held its inaugural auction in Hong Kong on Dec. 1, also saw strong international demand, selling $15 million worth of time pieces, compared with a $13.5 million pre-sale estimate. It sold a $1.5 million Patek Philippe wristwatch, the most ever paid in Asia for a timepiece by the watchmaker.

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