Jim Budd's drinks investment site. Please e-mail Jim here.
investdrinks.org is dedicated to showing the dangers of drinks investment. To pointing out the dodgy deals.
Winner of Prix Champagne Lanson 2001 Ivory Award
Glenfiddich Awards 2007
You have been warned: fraud is a profitable, low-risk career
'To put it bluntly, the risk of detection, investigation, prosecution and conviction of an offence of fraud is small, and if you are unlucky enough to be caught, the sentence is probably tolerable for the gains you have made. Whereas trafficking in drugs or people or arms may result in increased risk of detection and certainly more severe penalties.'
'Investment scams will always try to appear more attractive than more conventional, regulated investments and so the return on the outlay is always likely to be exaggerated or unrealistic. It follows that the essential message which applies to other scams applies equally to investments - If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!'
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"Clearly, nobody should consider investing without consulting www.investdrinks.org to see whether their wine would be nothing more than money down the drain."
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There are a number of companies that seek to persuade investors to diversify their portfolio and invest in drinks. It is possible to make money through investing in certain top wines, especially from Bordeaux. However, it is certainly not as easy as it is often suggested.
Historically price increases in fine wine have tended to go in steps: a short period when prices rise quickly followed by a longer plateau when prices remain essentially static and even decline a little.
This was certainly the case in the late 1990s until around the end of 2005. As investdrinks recorded:
‘An analysis of recent price movements of six leading Bordeaux properties (Cheval Blanc, Haut-Brion, Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Mouton-Rothschild: 1996-1959) between September 1999 and April 2002 shows that gains are often modest. Using price lists from Farr Vintners, one of the world’s leading fine wine brokers, investdrinks found that few wines from the best vintages over the past 40 years showed an annual percentage increase of more than single figures over the past 31 months. Inflation has been low over this period and this may well be a better guide to performance than claims of dramatic increases over the past 20 years when both inflation was often substantially higher and the taste and demand for fine wine became global.
Take the widely touted 1996s, only Lafite showed a double figure annual increase (11%), while Mouton actually recorded an annual decline of 1.5%. Remember that these figures are gross and do not include the cost of storage (around £8 a case per year), insurance and commission on selling - 10% if sold through Farr Vintners. Therefore the net annual increase will be even more modest. On these figures it is certainly not realistic to expect returns of 20% a year as The Sunday Times suggested in Profit on a liquid investment (30.12.01).’
However, by early 2006 older vintages of Bordeaux including 1982 were starting to look considerably undervalued and when the leading Bordeaux châteaux started to demand very significant prices increases for their very good 2005s prices across the board, especially for First Growths and their equivalent, started to rocket. This coincided with a stock market boom and a sharply increasing demand from Asia-Pacific. The rise in price for the top Bordeaux has been spectacular. However, the rise in the price of lesser fine Bordeaux has been much less spectacular as the following comparison, using wine-searcher.com, between Château Latour 1996 and Château Cantermerle 1996 shows:
Latour is one of the very top Bordeaux properties - a First Growth while Cantermerle, a Fifth Growth, is much less highly regarded. Between 13th June 2004 the price of a case (12 bottles) of Château Latour 1996 rose from £1650 (offered by Seckford Wines) to £5400 (offered by Richard Kihl) on 26th February 2008. A remarkable gross rise of £3750 or 227% - 57% per annum. In contrast on 25th May 2004 a case of Cantermerle could be bought for £160 from Falcon Vintners. On 5th February 2008 Jakes Food & Wine were offering Cantermerle for £260 a case - a gross rise of £100 or 62.5% - 15% per annum. Prices are in bond - without duty and vat.
Clearly anyone owning some Latour 1996 before the price shot up in 2006 and who had paid the right price has done extremely well. At first sight the Cantermerle owner can be reasonably satisfied. However, once wine storage charges are factored in, the position changes. Taking the storage charges (£14.38 a year or £57.53 for four), Cantermerle’s increase shrinks to just £42.47 - a rise of just 6.64% a year. If prices do not continue to rise in 2008 and they may not, then the profit on the Cantermerle will be speedily further eroded. In contrast storage charges have little effect on the Latour’s recent price rise. The price explosion of the past two years or so have further widened the price gulf between Bordeaux’s very top wines and the second tier of the region’s fine wines.
It is possible that we are now at the end of this latest price jump and that we may see prices plateaux out over the next few years. With the credit crunch, the sub-prime crisis of late 2007/2008 allied with the weakness of the dollar and the pound’s slide against the euro, the immediate economic future looks rocky. Historically economic problems have usually led to fine wines falling in price. The Asia-Pacific economic crisis of 1997 is just the latest example. Optimists point to the demand from new markets like China and that the demand for fine wine, especially Bordeaux, is far more global than ever before. We will see but I suspect that the phenomenal price increases seen for top Bordeaux recently will not be repeated over the next two years or so. There has been a drastic correction and now prices are likely to stabilise, particularly if the world economy goes into recession.
Buying en primeur - significant risks
This means paying for your wine when it is still in barrel to take delivery when it has been bottled. This may be up to two years after you have paid your moneyBordeaux is by far the most important en primeur market.
The most likely time to make a significant profit is when the wines are first offered for sale before they have even been bottled. In Bordeaux this is a long drawn out process lasting from early April to June as the châteaux gradually announce their prices. Often, especially in eagerly anticipated vintages like 2000, the top properties offer their wines at several different times and different prices: releasing a very small quantity at an initial opening price and then bumping the price up sharply when they release a little more onto the market a few days later.
Often it is necessary to have very good contacts to get the top wines at their most advantageous opening price. Also merchants may insist, when there is high demand, that customers cannot just buy the top wines en primeur but have to buy other wines, which probably have little or no potential to increase in value, from their en primeur offer.
Over the past couple of years several UK merchants that offered Bordeaux en primeur, have gone bust. These include The Cellaret.Mayfair Cellars, PMH Wines Ltd and uvine. Their customers have been horrified to discover that these merchants failed to pass on the monies to the Bordeaux merchants, who buy from the châteaux, and act as middlemen. Instead the monies have either been used to prop up the business or used for other purposes. Usually these unfortunate customers have ended up empty handed.
At the best of times buying en primeur means giving a wine company a two-year unsecured and interest free loan. If it all does go wrong then your loan will turn into a donation.
Robert Parker The Wine Buyer’s Guide (sixth edition published 2002) has a useful section on The Pitfalls and Pleasures of buying Bordeaux wine futures (pages 201-203).
A number of wine investment companies charge an up-front commission when clients buy their wine. Typically this is 25% on top of the cost of the wine, although some companies have charged 50% commission. Normally these up-front commissions are sold on the basis that the company doesn’t charge any commission when clients come to sell.
The typical charge by a broker for selling wine is around 10%. Predictably several companies charging an up-front commission have gone bust, so their clients will end up having to pay both a buying and selling commission. For more information on these commissions see the Claret web section and the archived section of Other news.
investdrinks is convinced that an up-front commission is not in an investor’s interest and strongly advises the investors to avoid any wine investment company that charges an up-front commission for buying wine. An upfront commission is particularly unsuitable for wine, which is frequently a medium to long-term investment. Among the companies charging an upfront commission are Aston Lovell Ltd, Morgan Aston Ford and Wine Traders International Ltd.
More importantly the UK Government warns against this practice:
‘ALWAYS ask about payment of commission. Beware of an up-front commission payable at the time of purchase instead of the time of sale.’
Drinks investments are often not covered by the financial regulators. In the UK, for example, anyone can set up a drinks investment business without having to satisfy the financial authorities that they are operating a legitimate business and are competent to offer drinks investment advice. Wine, like art, is seen as falling outside the scope of investment legislation. However in the UK firms can obtain authorisation to carry out investment business from the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
OWC Asset Management Limited has a wine investment fund. It has obtained authorisation from the FSA to carry out investment business. investdrinks believes this was the first time a company specialising in wine investment that sought approval. Although this does not mean that the OWC wine investment has FSA approval, it does mean that the company and its directors have been approved as fit and proper to carry out investment business. Subsequently two other funds have established FSA approval for the companies managing wine funds. These are Wine Asset Managers LLP (“WAM”) and The Wine Investment Fund.
Drinks investments are promoted as being tax-free. Although this is often the case, it is not invariably true. Get expert tax advice.
Drinks investments are sometimes promoted as being recession-proof. This is not correct. In hard times fine wine is not essential but bread is.
Drink investments should never be your main investment. Do not invest more than you can afford to drink if it does not work out.
Don't forget that although wine brokers should be able to give advice on wine and whether they might increase in value few, if any, are qualified to give financial advice.
Decanter has a monthly fine wine price watch listing current UK auction prices. Jancis Robinson's The Oxford Companion to Wine (2nd edition, OUP 1999) has a detailed appendix on fine wine investment. The website winesearcher.com is an excellent and free way of checking fine wine prices around the world. Although the professional version now costs $29.95 a year, it is worth the subscription if you want to check things like how prices have moved over the past three years.
There are more and more sources of information on the internet about the current market value of fine wine. investdrinks links section carries details of many of these.
Storage - absolutely crucial but frequently overlooked
Wines for investment should be stored in a bonded warehouse, so remaining free of excise duty and vat until the wines are moved out of bond. They should also be stored in a bonded warehouse that is properly equipped to deal with valuable fine wines. London City Bond with its Vinotheque (vinotheque.co.uk) and Octavian Vaults (octavianvaults.co.uk) are two of the leading UK companies in this field. Some merchants like Seckfords Wines (seckfordwines.co.uk/wine-storage.asp) have their own bonded warehouse.
investdrinks strongly urges anyone investing in wine to have their own account and not to reply on a storage account provided by a merchant.
Remember that you will have to pay annual storage charges. Vinotheque currently charge £12.24 + vat a year per case - £14.38. Obviously these charges need to be set against any profits you make on your wine.
For further details, see the Safety First section.
|Now to the dodgy deals...|
Since 1993 thousands of investors have been falling for a succession of drinks investment scams. Investors may well have paid out anywhere between £150 million to £200 million on dodgy drinks investments. These are almost invariably worth far less than the investor paid for them. Sometimes they are completely worthless. The current fashion is wine investments.
Few of the people, who run these dubious drinks investment companies, have a drinks industry background. Most come from the wilder and more exotic parts of the financial services industry.
Unfortunately some 'reputable' drinks companies are prepared to supply these dodgy firms even though they are fully aware of their methods and know that the chances of investors making money from these dodgy deals is as likely as seeing pigs flying. Leaving your money in a tax-free ISA may be less glossy and exciting but on past performance will give you a far better return even at only 4% per annum.
Click a button in the left frame to read current investigations and other news.
|Don't fall for some fly by night company that contacts you because you have shares in a particular company. Or any cold calling company no matter how impressive their name sounds.
Be wary of any smooth talker who tells you that you will make rapid profits. Or that wines always go up in price - they don't.
If you are approached by a company you have never heard of, check them out. Companies have to register. In the UK you can check through Companies House companies-house.gov.uk/info. This will give you free basic information about the date of incorporation, registered address, whether the company's accounts and returns are up to date. There is also a list of disqualified directors. You have to pay for details of directors and accounts etc.
Investdrinks' Directory lists dubious companies.
Don't be a mug: A consumers' guide to scams and rip-offs
The UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) have a section of their site warning about scams (dti.gov.uk/ccp/scams/page1.htm) and in the autumn of 2003 they added their Investment Scams Awareness Campaign (dti.gov.uk/ccp/scams/page9.htm)
The victim's case histories on the site demonstrate that the popular idea that there are no victims with 'white collar crime' is utter nonsense - these people's lives have been permanently blighted because they have been defrauded of their life savings.
The DTI offer good advice:
Remember - ALWAYS take independent professional advice before making any investment and particularly if the type of investment is unfamiliar to you.
Accommodation addresses/ instant offices
There is, of course, nothing wrong or illegal in having an accommodation address. However, any potential investor ought to be decidedly wary if a company only uses an accommodation address or an instant office and does not have its own permanent trading address. If an investment company is legitimate it will require its own premises, so why hide behind an accommodation address?
The following list is for guidance and is as accurate and up-to-date as I can reasonably make it. However, it is possible that some of these businesses have moved as they may not issue press releases if they relocate. investdrinks is very grateful to Tony Hetherington's (Mail on Sunday) assistance in compiling the list.
Here are some accommodation addresses:
Member of MAIL
Outer London area:
Other parts of the UK:
What to do if you have bought a dodgy drinks investment
a) Try to get your money back from the drinks investment company, always assuming that they are still trading. Some investors have succeeded by threatening to expose these companies' activities.
b) You may be entitled to a statutory refund under The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. This came into force on 31st October 2000 and entitles the consumer to a cancellation period. If the supplier has given you full details of your rights, you are entitled to cancel the order and to receive a full refund within seven days of receiving the goods e.g. your cases of wine. As the wine is stored in a bonded warehouse, the cancellation period starts the day after the wine has been transferred into your name. The refund must be paid within 30 days of receiving the cancellation order.
The cancellation period varies. If the company advises you of your full consumer rights under the 2000 Consumer Protection Regulations, then the period is seven working days. If you are not informed of your rights then the cancellation period or cooling off period is extended by 3 months. This gives you a total of 3 months and seven days. Should the supplier provide the required information (cancellation rights etc.) within 3 months of the start of the contract, then the seven working days cancellation period begins on the day after the consumer received the information.
As the claret web companies allow themselves a generous time (often 60 days from the time of payment) to buy the wine, there may well be a number of clients of these companies who are entitled to a statutory refund. If you need to enforce your rights, contact your local trading standards office or the Office of Fair Trading. The regulations are general to the European Union.
First check with the bonded warehouse when the wine was transferred into your name, then contact the claret web company you bought the wine from if this is within three months and seven days of the transfer being made. The period will only be seven days if you have been advised of your rights of cancellation under the 2000 regulations.
c) If you paid by credit card, you can contact your credit card company see if you can get them to refund your money under their consumer protection clauses. Credit card companies have already paid out large sums to duped drinks investors. Barclaycard may be well one of the biggest holders of casks of malt whisky.
d) Contact the Malt Whisky Buyers Helpline on firstname.lastname@example.org. This has been set up by a lawyer, who invested in malt whisky. They now have 2500 members on their database and have recovered over 5 million sterling from credit card companies. This does not take into account the people who have claimed personally from the card companies.
e) Complain to the financial authorities in the country where the company is registered as well as where the company has its offices.
In the UK you should complain to the Department of Trade and Industry. Write to: John Gardner, Director and Deputy Inspector of Companies, Department of Trade and Industry, 10 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0NN. Send a copy of your complaint to your local MP. You can also contact your local Trading Standards Office.
You should also contact the Serious Fraud Office, Elm House, Elm Street, London WC1. Tel: (44) 020-7239 7272. Since 1997 they have been investigating a number of the drinks investment companies. Their investigations continue.
Also see investdrinks' Complaints Dept.
The details on this site are backed by evidence. If, however, an individual or company demonstrates that they are inaccurate or that there is other evidence which sheds a different light on the evidence that I have, then I undertake to amend any inaccuracies as rapidly as possible and to issue a retraction.
|Why investdrinks' Host is in Canada|
| I set up the investdrinks site in April 2000. Prior to that I had some material on a friend's site (winedine.co.uk) that was hosted in the UK. In March 2000 Demon UK, a UK ISP, settled a libel case out of court for up to £250,000 after someone claimed that they had been libelled on one of Demon's bulletin boards. Unfortunately UK law treats Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as publishers, while in many other parts of the world they are seen much more like telephone companies. Following the Demon settlement winedine's ISP received several letters from solicitors representing scam investment companies threatening action. Although the ISP believed that the material was true, they were understandably not prepared to be sued and so demanded that it be removed from the winedine site.
Because of Canada's more sensible legal view of ISPs, I was advised to set up a site hosted by Tera-Byte.com in Canada. I have always been very happy with the service they provide. My sole object in setting up in Canada was to have some legal protection for my ISP. When investdrinks was launched I notified Seed International of its launch. Their solicitors immediately contacted Tera-Byte and demanded that they close down investdrinks. Tera-Byte refused to close the site down without evidence showing that what was on the site was inaccurate. Over three years later Seed have yet to follow up this invitation. Tera-Byte also asked me to provide evidence, which I did immediately.
Seed International, or agents of Seed, have said that a UK judge ordered investdrinks to be closed. This is utter rubbish. For a start investdrinks has never been based in the UK, nor has there ever been a court case etc..
|About me, Jim Budd|
I am a freelance drinks journalist. I started writing about drinks in 1988. Since then I have contributed to a number of magazines, mainly in the UK. These include Caterer & Hotelkeeper, Decanter, harpers - the wine & spirit weekly, Liquid Foods, Off Licence News, Wine, and Wine & Spirit International. I also contribute to decanter.com, winesmart.com, winedine.co.uk, madaboutwine.com, and restaurantgame.com.
I have been editor of Circle Update, the newsletter of the Circle of Wine Writers, since 1991 and have been investigating dodgy drinks investment since 1996, winning the Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée in 1997 for work on millennium Champagne 'investments' and the Prix du Champagne Lanson Ivory Award 2001 for investdrinks.
If you have any important news about drinks investment, or you want to get in touch with me about anything else, please click here: email@example.com.