Fine wine investment: Lockdown

There was a bit of scare story in the Financial Times last week under the headline: ‘The Perils of Storing Fine Wine’.

The essence of the piece was that an established wine merchant had just had £200,000 worth of stock half-inched from his ‘bonded warehouse’ (my inverted commas), and if it could happen to someone steeped in the trade then amateurs should approach with the utmost caution. In fact, run a mile.

Not only, the article appears to suggest, are the storage facilities completely sub-standard, (and if those used by an established merchant are easily compromised then surely everyone else’s must be even worse), but the logistic methodology and efficiencies are completely hopeless and open to abuse. And it doesn’t stop there. Rocketing prices have lured malfaisants back into the space and the long and short of it is you’d be mad as a hatter to get involved.

All nonsense, of course. We have just this very week taken one of our Indian investors down to inspect both the bonded facility we at Amphora use, and indeed to have a good look at the cases he owns within it. As it happens, we use Vine, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Liv-ex, who sub-let space from London City Bond down at Tilbury Docks.

In our experience investors from Asia and the Far East are justifiably paranoid about this very aspect of their contract with us. As they should be, given we ask them to part with money for an investment in a physical good which they are more than welcome to see but which is going to be parked about 10,000 miles away.

The fact of the matter is that the wines we buy and sell for investment purposes exist within a government-regulated environment, of which there are only six main players in the country.

If HMRC were to find that one of these was operating the CCTV only when it could be bothered, and that the facility wasn’t even manned 24/7, the operator would lose its licence before you could say ‘Inland Revenue’.

Then there is the question of insurance. In the FT article it has evidently come as a surprise to the professional merchant that he only stands to recoup £1,000 from the warehouse for his £200,000 loss, AND he will have to stump up for VAT and duty, his stock having left the bond. It’s quite difficult to imagine anyone, let alone a professional in the field, failing to be acquainted with the fine detail in the terms and conditions.

One of the first questions we are asked by any new or potential investor addresses the issue of insurance. It is true that the terms and conditions of the cover can vary from bond to bond, indeed in some you have to arrange it all yourself, but surely that is no excuse for not dealing with it. Whenever you purchase anything remotely valuable you insure it if you can, don’t you? Well we do, and all of our clients enjoy full cover for replacement cost. Excuse our ignorance but we actually thought that was de rigeur in the trade.

We would urge readers of this article, far from being put off, to be attracted to an asset class whose values have been rising happily but, as ever, to go about their investment business in a coherent, sensible manner. Ask all the right questions at the outset. Learn as much as you can. Seek advice, and work out what you are trying to achieve.

Philip Staveley is head of research at Amphora Portfolio Management. After a career in the City running emerging markets businesses for such investment banks as Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank he now heads up the fine wine investment research proposition with Amphora.

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