Friday, January 15, 2016

What’s the better investment: The S&P 500, gold, or an Hermès Birkin bag?

This would have been true five years ago; not so today. Years ago Hermes only had about 400 craftsmen and was opening new stores at a fairly fast pace so supply did not begin to equal demand. Today Hermes has more than 3,000 craftsmen and the Birkin has been around since demand is beginning to slow - and supply is exceeding demand. The article (and ones like it) are quick to point out that an Hermes Birkin sold last year at auction for $223K - but they don't mention that that bag cost more at Hermes than $223K (so it defeats their premise). And why do all of these stories perpetuate the MYTH of the waiting list? There is NO waiting list. Even the CEO of Hermes, Robert Chavez, has stated that there is no waiting list. My book debunks the waiting list. And finally, your block of gold, your Exxon stock certificate, will not lose their value if you get a drop of wine on them....

If you’re looking for a long-term investment, you might want to forget the stock market, skip the gold, and instead, buy yourself a new handbag. Though not just any bag will do—it’s got to be a Hermès Birkin bag, possibly the most exclusive handbag in the world.

According to Baghunter, an online marketplace for buying and selling high-end bags, the average annual return rate for the Birkin bag actually outpaced that of both the S&P 500 and the price of gold over the last 35 years. Accounting for inflation, the S&P returned an average 8.7% a year, and gold -1.5%—while the resale value of a Birkin in pristine condition rose 14.2%, according to Baghunter’s number crunching.

The bag’s value also showed considerably less volatility than the stock market, which could be good or bad depending on what type of investment you want. The figures above assume the investor purchased the item or stock and simply held it all those years, without actively trying to maximize profits by moving in and out of investments as the markets moved. In the timeframe examined, the S&P saw a high annual return of 37.2% in 1995 and a low of -36.6% in 2008. The Birkin, on the other hand, fluctuated between a high of 25% and a low of 2.1%, never falling in value. But an investor who timed the market just right could have made more from the S&P.

Baghunter tells Quartz that its figures for the S&P and gold start in December 1980, just before the Birkin’s conception in 1981, when actress Jane Birkin, in a chance encounter on a plane with the then-CEO of Hermès, said the company should offer a bag with pockets.

Evelyn Fox, the founder of Baghunter, which has an obvious stake in promoting the Birkin’s resale potential, told Luxury Daily the findings reflect the stability of the ultra-luxury market. Unlike the stock market and the regular old luxury market, which includes high-end but still relatively accessible goods from brands such as Burberry or Gucci, it fluctuates little, even in difficult economic times.

The comparison between “investing” in a bag and the stock market is somewhat apples-to-oranges, though in some ways that’s because of the very reason the Birkin is so valuable to begin with: The barrier to getting a Birkin is extremely high compared to buying stocks. To start, the average cost of a new Birkin is about $60,000, and they’ve reached as high as $223,000 at auction. Even a Class A share of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. will only set you back $192,000 at present.

One reason for the Birkin’s lofty prices: Scarcity. The bags, a status symbol carried by celebrities from Victoria Beckham to Pharrell Williams, are infamously “sold out” almost constantly, creating wait lists up to six years long. Hermès says the lengthy process required to produce the bags, made of premium animal skins that take time to harvest and are then hand-sewn by rigorously trained artisans in France, prevents it from meeting demand. But not everyone accepts that reasoning; there’s a lot of motivation for Hermès to create shortages to keep the bag’s value and prestige high.

Exclusivity also helps keep the Birkin’s value from pitching wildly: You don’t get a lot of people dumping $60,000 bags they waited years to buy and flooding the market. Though if the bags did go out of fashion, their “investment” value would plummet. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to buy new: Baghunter would be happy to have you invest in your bag through them.

Update, Jan. 14, 5:00pm EST: Baghunter clarified that its calculation of the Birkin bag’s average annual return rate includes inflation. The post was changed to compare this figure with the inflation-adjusted returns for the S&P and gold. 

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