Fearful Investors Stash Money in Luxury Goods

The trend hasn't yet been captured in figures, with the savings rate down only moderately so far. But consumer confidence is rising, and the pre-Christmas retail market wasn't the only area to profit.

Those who can afford it are putting their money into their own homes, in the form of better insulation or renovations. Roofers are booked out for weeks in many regions. The sector is one of the winners of the crisis, growing some 5 percent in 2011 to reach almost €8.5 billion in turnover.

Many people want to swiftly stash their money somewhere safe. Those who can afford it are investing in supposedly secure goods. Record prices are being paid at art auctions. Meanwhile, in cities with booming economies, such as Hamburg and Munich, real-estate agents are reporting bidding wars over so-called "cement gold," as property has been dubbed.

What Crisis?

But this isn't necessarily a typical reaction to a crisis. As good as things seem to be going at the moment, the real-estate sector seemed paralyzed in 2008 after the Lehman Brothers crisis. "Back then, we could hardly get any money -- there was a period of over eight months when banks weren't making any long-term investments," says Georg Reul from the developer Frankonia. In 2008, the company purchased a prime piece of real estate with a view of the Alster River in Hamburg. The project stalled for some time, but sales have now picked up. Reul now reports selling penthouse apartments for up to €12,000 per square meter.

Consumer researchers are also observing a trend toward shopping to fight the crisis in the luxury segment. Unlike during the Lehman Brothers crisis, the feeling of uncertainty is being compensated for by defiant purchases. Dog dishes inlaid with Swarovski crystals and priced at €1,000 are selling well. French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, which includes Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, has reported record earnings. Vintage car dealer Dietrich-Gotthard Gross, based in southern Bavaria, just sold a Mercedes 300 SL with gull-wing doors for about €550,000. "Purely as an investment," he says, clearly astonished himself. "The customer doesn't even want to register the car."

Crisis, what crisis? Fashion czar Karl Lagerfeld evoked the blissful ignorance of the rich at a recent Chanel show in Paris when, surrounded by mountains of crystal candy containers, he declared: "There's no way we're going to succumb to this general mood of depression."

But the fashion designer doesn't seem to be unreservedly content himself. He recently called for a form of wealth tax that would help his own industry. Anyone whose salary crossed a certain threshold, Lagerfeld demanded, should have to spend a certain sum in the shops. He said he hated people who hoard money.

Gold Rush

That too seems to be a result of the general uncertainty. Suddenly, people are no longer mincing their words -- even in the financial sector. Capital market strategist Vorndran admits: "No one can, or was ever able to, guarantee the purchasing power of your money."

He expects inflation to rise as high as 6 percent in the coming years, which means the forms of investment most dear to German hearts -- savings accounts, bonds or fixed-term deposits -- will make losses. People are sensing that they need a kind of "reset," says Vorndran. But he doesn't believe in a new currency. "The reduction of debt will take place within our monetary system."

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