With stock and property markets on shaky ground, investors in China and Hong Kong are pouring money into art. But as Farah Master reports, few if any of these pieces will end up hanging above the mantlepiece.
Millions of dollars worth of art packed up tight at this temperature-controlled Hong Kong warehouse. It's not the stockpile of some art-obsessed collector - it's more like a stock market. Takung Art sells shares of things like Tibetan porcelain stones and modern Chinese paintings. And it's taking off big time. (SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS REPORTER, FARAH MASTERS, SAYING: "The company's portfolio value has gone up by nearly 700 percent in the past 2 years, with tens of thousands of people buying in. But they're not in it for the love of art. Investors here are simply looking for a safe place to park their cash." This is how it works. People who own a work of art can list it on Takung's trading platform. It's price tag is then broken down into a number of shares, which users can then trade. After 10 years, the piece is sold and the profit's divided between shareholders. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER OF HONGKONG TAKUNG ASSETS AND EQUITY OF ARTWORKS EXCHANGE COMPANY LIMITED, LESLIE CHOW, SAYING: "The China investment environment hasn't been that great from the housing market perspective for the past few years. So maybe they are looking for alternative investment." Takung is tapping into huge angst among China's wealthy - With stock markets and property prices slumping, investors are desperate for a safe haven... But analysts say handle this business model should be approached with caution. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DIRECTOR OF VERMILLION ART COLLECTIONS AND VICE CHAIRMAN OF PARA SITE ART SPACE, JEHAD CHU, SAYING: "You should learn about the asset that you're trading, first and foremost. Then what I really suggest is that they collect art, that they buy the art, that they meet the artist and they support the overall system. So really no, I'm not sure I would suggest that this is the best way for them to enter the art world." Takung's success comes as big auction houses like Sotheby's and Christies' face a slowdown. But they're hardly likely to jump on board the bandwagon. Sotheby's says they want to sell art for people to actually look at any financial gain should just be considered a bonus.