Market meltdown leaves antiques dealers on the shelf

Updated: 2016-07-26 08:20

By Zhao Xu in Beijing and Zhang Kun in Suzhou(China Daily)

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Market meltdown leaves antiques dealers on the shelf

A customerless vendor watches a video on his smartphone.

Hard times

According to Ji Tao, an auctioneer-cum-researcher in Beijing, the collapse of the stock market in the second half of 2014 dealt a fatal blow to the auction market. The number of auctions held in Beijing in 2014 fell by 20 percent compared with the year before.

The number fell by a further 30 to 40 percent last year. Some medium-sized auction houses canceled or postponed their spring events, and others proposed share transfers.

Guardian Auctions, one of China's biggest auction houses, reported it had 5,800 items in its 2015 spring fair, down 12 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, Beijing Council International Auction, said it only organized 18 sales during last year's spring auction season, half of the number for 2014.

Ji said the ongoing market slump has "lasted longer than most of us had predicted. Back in 2011, there were rumors of an imminent slowdown because market fluctuation is a cyclical thing that is bound to happen every two or three years. However, when optimism reigned, it was easy to dismiss people urging caution," he said. "But when it did hit, it hit hard."

Among the hardest hit were people he describes as "short-term investors"-those with scant knowledge who had entered the booming market between 2009 and 2011 in search of quick profits. "Driven by lust for money, some of them did make a fortune by simply letting a collectible piece change hands, but many more found themselves stranded with tens or even hundreds of thousands worth of stock when the wave began to fall.

"They were not real connoisseurs, and therefore they could not tell really good pieces from all the mediocre stuff that flooded the market at one time," the 50-something said. "When anything could sell, their stuff sold. When the economy went down, they went down with it."

Another affected group is at the other end of the spectrum-people who trade petty antiques, have no brick and mortar stores and travel from city to city to attend open-air bazaars. Xu Qing, from the State-owned Henan Provincial Antique Store in Zhengzhou, Henan Pro-vince, believes that the market meltdown has pushed those people further to the fringes, where they are struggling for a foothold. "For them, the issue is not one of business, but of survival," he said.