Objects of Desire: Record Breaking Auction Sales in 2021
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Objects of Desire: Record Breaking Auction Sales in 2021

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Record Breaking Auction Sales in 2021

2021 may have been the year of the NFT, but wealthy collectors still dropped plenty of cash on physical objects. This included the usual items like paintings and cars, as well as some more obscure ones like meteorites.

To gain insight into the world of rare collectibles, this infographic summarizes the biggest auction sales of 2021, spread across 12 different item categories.

The Numbers

The key details of these sales are listed below in tabular format. Some broke all-time records, while others set the record for 2021 specifically.

ObjectCategorySale Price (USD)Auction House
Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise près d’une fenêtrePaintings$103.4MChristie’s
Final text of the United States ConstitutionPrinted texts$43.2MSotheby’s
15.81-carat Sakura diamondPurple-pink diamonds$29.3MChristie’s
1995 McLaren F1Automobiles$20.5MGooding & Company
1933 Double Eagle coinCoins$18.9MSotheby’s
The revolver used to kill Billy the KidFirearms$6.0MBonhams
Grande et Petite SonnerieWatches$5.3MPhillips
1993 Ron Arad “D-Sofa”Furniture$1.6MPhillips
Pair of Michael Jordan’s Nike Air ShipsShoes$1.5MSotheby’s
Necklace featuring a 56.87-carat emeraldEmeralds$1.0MPhillips
4.5B year old Fukang meteoriteMeteorites$702KChristie’s
Hermès Black Togo Birkin 35Handbags$155KBonhams

The Details

Here are some interesting facts and details about these rare collectibles, starting with:

Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse)

This 1932 painting is a depiction of Picasso’s lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter (1909-1977). Walter is believed to have had a significant impact on Picasso’s work, and the pair had a child out-of-wedlock in 1935.

He loved the blondeness of her hair, her luminous complexion, her sculptural body.
– Brassaï

Sold by Christie’s in New York, this was the first painting to auction for over $100 million in nearly two years. The all-time record holder is Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which sold for $450 million in 2016 to Mohammed Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

1995 McLaren F1

Produced between 1992 and 1998, the McLaren F1 is widely regarded as one of the most desirable supercars in the world. It features many innovations that are still rare in modern road cars, including a carbon fiber monocoque (the main structure of the car), active aerodynamics on the underbody, and a centered driving position.

The F1’s legacy is cemented by the fact that only 106 were ever produced, many of which have been owned by celebrities. That includes Elon Musk, who famously crashed his F1 in 2000 without insurance.

The specific car highlighted above was sold by Gooding & Company, a classic car auction company. It has just 242 miles (390 km) on the clock, which translates to an average of 9.3 miles (15 km) being driven on the road per year.

1933 Double Eagle Coin

The 1933 Double Eagle is one of the last $20 gold coins ever produced in the United States. It dates back to an era when the U.S. dollar’s value was tied to gold, which is a system known as the gold standard. The coins were melted down when the U.S. transitioned to fiat money, and only 13 examples are known to exist today.

After selling for $18.9 million, this Double Eagle holds the title as the most valuable rare coin in the world.

The Revolver Used to Kill Billy the Kid

The Colt single-action revolver that was used to kill Billy the Kid is now the most expensive firearm ever sold at an auction. It belonged to Sheriff Pat Garrett, who killed Billy in 1881.

Billy is one of the most notorious figures from America’s wild west era and was responsible for the deaths of eight men, including two sheriff’s deputies during an escape from jail.

Because of Billy’s legacy, this revolver is lauded as one of the most desirable Western firearms in existence. Surprisingly, it was the gun’s first appearance in a public auction.

Final Text of the United States Constitution

This first-edition copy of the U.S. constitution is an incredibly rare and historically significant artifact. The story of how it sold is equally as impressive.

Bidding came down to two parties, one of which was Ken Griffin, billionaire CEO of Citadel. If you’re an investor, that name may sound familiar—Citadel was a hedge fund involved in the r/wallstreetbets saga of 2021.

The other party was ConstitutionDAO, a group of 17,000+ crypto investors who pooled together $47 million worth of Ethereum. The term “DAO” refers to a decentralized autonomous organization, which is an online entity that’s collectively owned by its members without centralized leadership—and that takes action based on transparent rules set on a public blockchain.

In the end, the copy was sold to Griffin for a total of $43.2 million. Organizers of ConstitutionDAO could not place a higher bid because they wouldn’t have had enough money to insure, store, and transport the document.

About Those NFTs…

NFTs only exist in the digital realm, but they’ve quickly become some of the world’s most valuable collectibles. How valuable, you may ask?

For starters, consider the $7.6 million sale of CryptoPunk #3100, a profile picture (PFP) NFT that depicts a blue zombie. Then there’s The Merge, a digital artwork comprised of 312,686 pieces. In December 2021, it was sold to a collective of 28,983 buyers who, altogether, paid $91.8 million.

All of this hype has led some of the world’s oldest auction houses to begin selling NFTs through online events. This includes Christie’s (founded in 1766), which surpassed $100 million in NFT auction sales in less than a year.

Whether this momentum can carry forward is questionable. Interest in NFTs has plummeted, and crypto markets remain incredibly volatile.

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Charted: U.S. Consumer Debt Approaches $16 Trillion

Robust growth in mortgages has pushed U.S. consumer debt to nearly $16 trillion. Click to gain further insight into the situation.

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Charted: U.S. Consumer Debt Approaches $16 Trillion

According to the Federal Reserve (Fed), U.S. consumer debt is approaching a record-breaking $16 trillion. Critically, the rate of increase in consumer debt for the fourth quarter of 2021 was also the highest seen since 2007.

This graphic provides context into the consumer debt situation using data from the end of 2021.

Housing Vs. Non-Housing Debt

The following table includes the data used in the above graphic. Housing debt covers mortgages, while non-housing debt covers auto loans, student loans, and credit card balances.

DateHousing Debt
(USD trillions)
Non-Housing Debt
(USD trillions)
Total Consumer Debt
(USD trillions)
Q1 20035.182.057.23
Q2 20035.342.047.38
Q3 20035.452.107.55
Q4 20035.962.108.06
Q1 20046.172.138.30
Q2 20046.342.128.46
Q3 20046.642.208.84
Q4 20046.832.229.05
Q1 20057.012.199.20
Q2 20057.232.269.49
Q3 20057.452.359.80
Q4 20057.672.3410.01
Q1 20068.022.3610.38
Q2 20068.352.4010.75
Q3 20068.652.4611.11
Q4 20068.832.4811.31
Q1 20079.032.4611.49
Q2 20079.332.5311.86
Q3 20079.562.5812.14
Q4 20079.752.6312.38
Q1 20089.892.6512.54
Q2 20089.952.6512.60
Q3 20089.982.6912.67
Q4 20089.972.7112.68
Q1 20099.852.6812.53
Q2 20099.772.6312.40
Q3 20099.652.6212.27
Q4 20099.552.6212.17
Q1 20109.532.5812.11
Q2 20109.382.5511.93
Q3 20109.282.5611.84
Q4 20109.122.5911.71
Q1 20119.182.5811.76
Q2 20119.142.5811.72
Q3 20119.042.6211.66
Q4 20118.902.6311.53
Q1 20128.802.6411.44
Q2 20128.742.6411.38
Q3 20128.602.7111.31
Q4 20128.592.7511.34
Q1 20138.482.7511.23
Q2 20138.382.7711.15
Q3 20138.442.8511.29
Q4 20138.582.9411.52
Q1 20148.702.9611.66
Q2 20148.623.0211.64
Q3 20148.643.0711.71
Q4 20148.683.1611.84
Q1 20158.683.1711.85
Q2 20158.623.2411.86
Q3 20158.753.3112.06
Q4 20158.743.3712.11
Q1 20168.863.3912.25
Q2 20168.843.4512.29
Q3 20168.823.5412.36
Q4 20168.953.6312.58
Q1 20179.093.6412.73
Q2 20179.143.6912.83
Q3 20179.193.7712.96
Q4 20179.323.8213.14
Q1 20189.383.8513.23
Q2 20189.433.8713.30
Q3 20189.563.9513.51
Q4 20189.534.0113.54
Q1 20199.654.0213.67
Q2 20199.814.0613.87
Q3 20199.844.1313.97
Q4 20199.954.2014.15
Q1 202010.104.2114.31
Q2 202010.154.1214.27
Q3 202010.224.1414.36
Q4 202010.394.1714.56
Q1 202110.504.1414.64
Q2 202110.764.2014.96
Q3 202110.994.2415.23
Q4 202111.254.3415.59

Source: Federal Reserve

Trends in Housing Debt

Home prices have experienced upward pressure since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is evidenced by the Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which has increased by 34% since the start of the pandemic.

Driving this growth are various pandemic-related impacts. For example, the cost of materials such as lumber have seen enormous spikes. We’ve covered this story in a previous graphic, which showed how many homes could be built with $50,000 worth of lumber. In most cases, these higher costs are passed on to the consumer.

Another key factor here is mortgage rates, which fell to all-time lows in 2020. When rates are low, consumers are able to borrow in larger quantities. This increases the demand for homes, which in turn inflates prices.

Ultimately, higher home prices translate to more mortgage debt being incurred by families.

No Need to Worry, Though

Economists believe that today’s housing debt isn’t a cause for concern. This is because the quality of borrowers is much stronger than it was between 2003 and 2007, in the years leading up to the financial crisis and subsequent housing crash.

In the chart below, subprime borrowers (those with a credit score of 620 and below) are represented by the red-shaded bars:

Mortgage originations by Credit Score

We can see that subprime borrowers represent very little (2%) of today’s total originations compared to the period between 2003 to 2007 (12%). This suggests that American homeowners are, on average, less likely to default on their mortgage.

Economists have also noted a decline in the household debt service ratio, which measures the percentage of disposable income that goes towards a mortgage. This is shown in the table below, along with the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate.

YearMortgage Payments as a % of Disposable IncomeAverage 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rate
200012.0%8.2%
200412.2%5.4%
200812.8%5.8%
20129.8%3.9%
20169.9%3.7%
20209.4%3.5%
20219.3%3.2%

Source: Federal Reserve

While it’s true that Americans are less burdened by their mortgages, we must acknowledge the decrease in mortgage rates that took place over the same period.

With the Fed now increasing rates to calm inflation, Americans could see their mortgages begin to eat up a larger chunk of their paycheck. In fact, mortgage rates have already risen for seven consecutive weeks.

Trends in Non-Housing Consumer Debt

The key stories in non-housing consumer debt are student loans and auto loans.

The former category of debt has grown substantially over the past two decades, with growth tapering off during the pandemic. This can be attributed to COVID relief measures which have temporarily lowered the interest rate on direct federal student loans to 0%.

Additionally, these loans were placed into forbearance, meaning 37 million borrowers have not been required to make payments. As of April 2022, the value of these waived payments has reached $195 billion.

Over the course of the pandemic, very few direct federal borrowers have made voluntary payments to reduce their loan principal. When payments eventually resume, and the 0% interest rate is reverted, economists believe that delinquencies could rise significantly.

Auto loans, on the other hand, are following a similar trajectory as mortgages. Both new and used car prices have risen due to the global chip shortage, which is hampering production across the entire industry.

To put this in numbers, the average price of a new car has climbed from $35,600 in 2019, to over $47,000 today. Over a similar timeframe, the average price of a used car has grown from $19,800, to over $28,000.

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Why Investors Tuned Out Netflix

Disappointing results have pushed Netflix shares down by over 60% year-to-date. This infographic puts the company’s rocky year into perspective.

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Why Investors Tuned Out Netflix

Netflix shares have enjoyed an incredible run over the past decade. Subscriber growth seemed limitless, profitability was improving, and the pandemic gave us a compelling case for watching TV at home.

Things took a drastic turn on April 19, 2022, when Netflix announced its Q1 results. Rather than gaining subscribers as forecasted, the company lost 200,000. This was the first decline in over a decade, and investors rushed to pull their money out.

So, is there a buying opportunity now that Netflix shares are trading at multi-year lows? To help you decide, we’ve provided further context around this historic crash.

Netflix Shares Fall Flat

Over the span of a few months, Netflix shares have erased roughly four years worth of gains. Not all of these losses are due to the drop in subscribers, however.

Prior to the Q1 earnings announcement, Netflix had lost most of its pandemic-related gains. This was primarily due to rising interest rates and people spending less time at home. Still, analysts expected Netflix to add 2.7 million subscribers.

After announcing it had lost 200,000 subscribers instead, the stock quickly fell below $200 (the first time since late 2017). YTD performance (as of April 29, 2022) is an abysmal -67%.

What’s to Blame?

Netflix pointed to three culprits for its loss in subscribers:

  • The suspension of its services in Russia
  • Increasing competition
  • Account sharing

Let’s focus on the latter two, starting with competition. The following table compares the number of subscribers between Netflix and two prominent rivals: Disney+ and HBO.

DateNetflix Subscribers Disney+ Subscribers HBO & HBO Max Subscribers
Q1 2020182.8M26.5M53.8M
Q2 2020192.9M33.5M55.5M
Q3 2020195.1M60.5M56.9M
Q4 2020203.6M73.7M60.6M
Q1 2021207.6M94.9M63.9M
Q2 2021209.2M103.6M67.5M
Q3 2021213.6M116.0M69.4M
Q4 2021221.8M118.1M73.8M
Q1 2022221.6M129.8M76.8M

Disney+ was launched in November 2019, while HBO Max was launched in May 2020. HBO (the channel) and HBO Max subscribers are rolled up as one.

Based on this data, Netflix may be starting to feel the heat of competition. A loss in subscribers is bad news, but it’s even worse when competitors report growth over the same time period.

Keep in mind that we’re only talking about a single quarter, and not a long-term trend. It’s too early to say whether Netflix is actually losing ground, though the company has warned it could shed another 2 million subscribers by July.

Next is account sharing, which according to Netflix, amounts to 100 million non-paying households. This is spread out across the entire world, but if we use the company’s U.S. pricing as a benchmark, it translates to between $1 to $2 billion in lost revenue.

Growth is Everything

In the tech sector, growth is everything. If Netflix can’t return to posting consecutive quarters of subscriber growth, it could be many years before the stock returns to its previous high.

“We’ve definitely seen that once you get to 70, 80 millions of subs, things really tend to slow down. We saw it with HBO, and we’ve seen the same issues with Disney. They’re hitting the upper limit on the big growth.”
– David Campo, NYU

Regaining that momentum is going to be difficult, but Netflix does have plans. To address password sharing, the service may charge a fee for out-of-household profiles that are added to an account. The specifics around enforcement are vague, but Netflix is also considering a lower-priced subscription plan that includes advertising.

Only time will tell if these strategies can stop the bleeding, or perhaps even boost profitability. Rampant inflation, which might persuade consumers to cut down on their subscriptions, could be a source of additional headwinds.

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