Market Softness – Yes, but Perspective Required
While hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of collector cars once again changed hands at the world-renowned 2019 Monterey Car Week auctions, preliminary sale totals were reported by Hagerty Insurance and Larry Edsall of ClassicCars.com on Saturday, August 18th at $245.5 million – down 34 percent from the $370 million reported for 2018. This year’s sale totals rank as the lowest since those for 2011, which came in at $125.4 million – a far cry from this year’s total sales and a most useful yardstick to compare with the 2019 results announced to date.
Additionally, the lower sale results for 2019 stand in stark contrast to the amazing lineups of collector cars offered by all auction companies present at Monterey this year. As one who was on the ground for much of the frenzied action at Monterey, the consensus was that in general terms, the quality of vehicles offered was high and worthy of their respective Monterey auction venues. “Best-of-the-best” and just plain interesting vehicles abounded. Perhaps with so many auctions, shows and events taking place, buyers were unable to attend them all or make their presence fully felt.
It is also no secret that global economic instability may have played a hand in the totals recorded at the various Monterey auctions. With the 10-year Treasury Bond yield currently below 2 percent and both trade disputes and geopolitics on virtually everyone’s mind or at least the 24-hour news cycle, buyers and sellers are clearly weighing their decisions and actions with extreme caution. However, 2019 sales at Monterey still remain nearly 100 percent higher than those recorded for 2011, when the housing crisis-fueled Great Recession of 2008-09 was still a fresh and all-too painful memory for millions of people around the world.
Reading Between the Lines
Sale totals aside, closer examination of the performance of the various companies hosting Monterey auctions reveals some very interesting market dynamics. Despite the lower overall totals, numerous auction records were shattered once again at Monterey. A new development was RM Sotheby’s hosting of a three-day auction this year. On the first all-Aston Martin evening, the auction house sold the 1965 “James Bond” Aston Martin DB5 saloon for $6.3 million. Among the other record-setting sales for RM Sotheby’s, a 1994 McLaren F1 “LM-Specification” supercar sold for $19.8 million – a new record mark for a McLaren at auction and the top sale for the week.
Predictably, the storied Ferrari marque provided strong sale results for RM Sotheby’s, including a 1962 250 SWB Berlinetta, which garnered $8.1 million. In contrast, several “Enzo-era” V-12 models, staples of Monterey and top international auctions, passed unsold at robust final bids. Modern Ferrari supercars did perform very well, including a 2014 LaFerrari at $2.9 million and the record-setting sale of a 2006 FXX at $3.5 million. Representing iconic American competition cars, the 1964 Ford GT40 Prototype Roadster was hammered sold at $7.7 million. Unfortunately, the offering of the 1939 Porsche Type 64 – the first Porsche-branded car – was frustrated with confusion and miscommunicated bid amounts, passing unsold at $17 million.
Gooding and Company’s two-day auctions (August 16-17) performed very well, with total posted sales of $76,824,740 at the time this article was drafted. A broad range of cars was offered, marking a carefully curated and pleasing journey through the annals of automotive history. While such auction staples as a Mercedes-Benz 300SL “Gullwing” Coupe and Ferrari Dino 246 GT brought strong money at $1.435 million and $375,000 respectively, vintage racing cars performed strongly under the watchful eye of David Gooding and the rapier wit of auctioneer Charlie Ross, including the 1931 Studebaker Special Indy Car, which sold at $1,105,000. Some of Aston Martin’s finest models also performed admirably with Gooding and Company, including a 1960 Aston Martin DB4 Series I at $522,000, a 1964 Aston Martin DB5 at $637,500, an exceedingly rare coach built 1954 Aston Martin DB2/4 Drophead Coupe at $720,000 and a “1 of 75” 1961 Aston Martin DB4 GT with wonderful provenance at $3.6 million. For its part, Bonhams reported $32 million in total sales from its Quail Lodge Auction.
By the Numbers
According to detailed analysis delivered by Hagerty, one notable outcome for 2019 was the failure of several high-value headline cars to sell during Monterey Auction week, consequently dragging aggregate results down for the week. Sell-through for seven- and eight-figure cars were 42 percent for Monterey 2019, contrasted with 56 percent sell-through logged for this segment in 2018. This year’s sell-through for these elite vehicles also marked a decline from the 55 percent rate during the first seven months of 2019. A prime example of this current market reality was the no-sale of the 1954/1959 Ferrari sports racer at Mecum Auctions, which passed unsold despite a $20 million high bid.
According to the August 2019 market report published by HAGI (Historic Automobile Group International), the HAGI Top Index covering the market for rare classic cars actually rose by nearly 3 percent (2.81%) on a month-over-month basis compared to July. However, this result was in nominal terms. Factoring the 2.57% decline of the British Pound in relation to the U.S. Dollar and 1.81% against the Euro, currency movements effectively nullified the HAGI Top index gains for August. A decline in the HAGI Top index of 2.09% for the year to date is indeed measurable but in no way anything more than a small market correction. The HAGI P (classic Porsche) index was the best performer in August, rising 6.87% over July, driven by older competition models from Stuttgart and low-mileage modern supercars. It also stands as the best-performing HAGI index Importantly, this strong result for Porsches substantially outperformed August’s currency swings. Mercedes-Benz sales also saw an uptick for August; however, despite a 1.31% rise, currency conversions also dragged the real monthly return down slightly for this market segment. Keep in mind that overall, the HAGI indices for August 2019 outperformed the S&P Global 1200 stock index.
Post-Monterey Auctions 2019
While an obviously significant volume and dollar value of collector cars did change hands at Monterey this year, both bulls and bears are now locked in an epic battle that will be sure to command the undivided attention of all market participants through the remaining months of 2019 and beyond. Private sales seem to remain quite robust, as achieved at the Saraggà Collection sale in Portugal and the Taj Ma Garaj auction in Ohio – both executed by RM Sotheby’s in September. At the annual Labor Day auctions in Auburn, Indiana by hometown players Worldwide Auctioneers and RM Auctions (formerly Auctions America), sale numbers also looked quite good, albeit in the more mainstream-oriented market space. Mecum Auctions continues to be an auction-market juggernaut with its jam-packed schedule and ability to amass large numbers of highly desirable collector cars from virtually every segment of the collector-car market. Upcoming events will round out a busy 2019 for all players, including Worldwide’s October 4-5 Corpus Christi Old Car Museum auction, Barrett-Jackson’s annual Las Vegas auction that same weekend. RM Sotheby’s Hershey, Pennsylvania, and London, UK auctions in October, plus Worldwide’s foray into Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and RM Sotheby’s Abu Dhabi, UAE auction in conjunction with Formula One Group will certainly be closely watched for signs of the market’s strength.
To paraphrase the ancient Chinese proverb, we definitely live in interesting times. Stay tuned and buckle up! For more observations and opinions on the state of the market, be sure to visit Historic Automobile Group International (HAGI) at www.historicautogroup.com and Hagerty at www.hagerty.com .