Hong Kong the toast of the wine auction world

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 June, 2010, 12:00am

Hong Kong is likely to overtake the United States as the world's biggest wine auction centre this year with sales of about US$100 million.

This comes two years after duty on wine was scrapped in the city and will help cement its position as a global player for wine auctions.

First-half results show wine sales of more than HK$400 million - exceeding the record US$50.7 million global sales achieved in the whole of last year by 2009 leader Zachys.

Wine consultant David Wainwright, formerly with Christie's international wine department, said Hong Kong would probably surpass the US if wine sales in the second half of the year matched the first half. Given the robust demand for fine wines in Asia and on the mainland, he said Hong Kong would continue to lead the global wine auction market for at least five years.

The US wine market suffered a 36 per cent drop to US$106.05 million last year with New York sales falling one-third to US$72.38 million. Total global sales fell to US$233.35 million from US$276 million in 2008.

Wainwright said part of Hong Kong's meteoric ascent up the ranks of global wine sales comes at the expense of the US as major auction houses such as Sotheby's and Acker Merrall & Condit shift more of their wine stocks - that would have been sold in the US - to Hong Kong in the hope of achieving higher prices.

This has the effect of boosting Hong Kong sales and also buoying prices in the US because of less competition among auction houses in New York. New York-based Acker Merrall is expected to derive three-quarters of its total revenue from its six Hong Kong sales this year.

'I do not think it is the auction houses but rather the consignors themselves that are requesting Hong Kong,' Acker Merrall president John Kapon said. 'There is an aura about China and its developing market that many want to try first-hand. However, I would not underestimate the interest that remains in fine wine in the rest of the world.'

In Hong Kong, Sotheby's kicked off the year with a January auction that achieved HK$52.9 million, its highest total for a one-day sale. Acker Merrall followed with a two-day sale of HK$59 million. A Zachys sale in February fetched just over HK$52 million, Acker Merrall returned in March and realised HK$57.6 million before taking home over HK$152 million last month, the second biggest wine auction in the world. Another Acker Merrall sale in New York that fetched US$24.68 million in October 2006 holds the world record.

Christie's had a HK$40.3 million sale, its biggest in Asia, and Sotheby's a HK$20.66 million sale.