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Last year in auctions: America awakes, Hong Kong softens

Christie's has reported its second-best-ever figure for its wine auction sales in 2012, while Sotheby's and Acker Merrall report a 'settling down' of interest from Asia.

‘Asia will continue to settle’: Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s in particular reported America ‘re-awakening’ as the UK and Hong Kong became slightly less exciting.

With auction sales exceeding US$90.3m (£56m) including buyer’s premium, Christie’s 2012 season came close to reaching the house’s highest ever figure of US$90.9m, set in 2011, said Erin McAndrew, head of corporate communications, Americas.

Much of those sales came from Hong Kong, which emerged as the leading sales site for wine at Christie’s, with over US$37.7m (£23.4m) in sales.

London followed at US$17m (£11m) and New York at US$12m (£7.5m), including three online-only wine auctions.

In addition to its three major sale sites, Christie’s holds regular wine auctions in Geneva, Paris, and Amsterdam, as well as the annual Hospices de Beaune barrel auction in Burgundy, which reached US$7.6m (€5.9m) this year.

Over the summer, Christie’s launched its first online-only wine sales, one of which was the sale of wines from the cellar of Chicago restaurant Charlie Trotter’s.

David Elswood, international head of wine at Christie’s, said the year had been ‘stellar’ and that he looked forward to an equally dynamic 2013.

Meanwhile, at Sotheby’s and Acker Merrall & Condit, results for 2012 indicate a softening of demand from Asia – though it is still the most significant market – and a recovery in the US.

Acker Merrall achieved US$83.3m (£52m, including buyers’ premium) from live commercial auctions, with its Asia sales accounting for 56% compared with 62% last year. This represents a fall of roughly 25% from 2011, the house’s best year.

Acker chief executive John Kapon noted the declining demand from Asia, especially for red Bordeaux, but remains bullish about the region.

‘We believe the market will show more balance as it continues to globalise,’ he told Decanter.com.

‘However, this change in no way indicates a reversal of the long-term trends coming from Asia first and foremost.’

Sotheby’s 2012 global total was US$64.5m (excluding buyers’ premium), down from US$85m in 2011. The Hong Kong sale room led with US$27m, followed by London (US$19.7m).

New York (US$17.7m) had the largest incremental increase, achieving almost a third more than in 2011.

Jamie Ritchie, Sotheby’s chief executive and president for Americas and Asia, emphasised that while Asia contributed the most of all the markets, North America appears to have reawakened.

‘Hong Kong and the UK had great years in 2010 and 2011, so 2012 is a reflection of a less exciting Hong Kong market, and a marginally les exciting UK market,’ he said.

‘The New York market is recovering due to interest from collectors who have sat back over the last couple of years, and from new buyers from Latin America, particularly Brazil and Mexico.’

Both houses said their Hong Kong markets did as well as they did – despite the retreat from feverish buying – because of growing taste for Burgundy, Champagne at the expense of red Bordeaux.

That said, red Bordeaux still comprised 40% of Acker Merrall’s sales (down 10% over 2011) with Chateau Lafite Rothschild proving the biggest draw and yielding 7.5% of the house’s Bordeaux sales.

Both auctioneers expect Asia to continue settling down, with Ritchie predicting a tightening of supply that will mean prices will start to rise again. Kapon likewise is encouraging clients to consider the decline in Bordeaux prices an opportunity.

‘With new release prices for the rarest wines becoming increasingly expensive, we think 2013 will prove that there is real opportunity in collecting and investing in all of the secondary wine market, and that the market will remain healthy and active,’ he said.

Written by Panos Kakaviatos and Maggie Rosen

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