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Hong Kong art and collectibles platform Oriental Culture hopes Nasdaq IPO will burnish its image, give sector credibility

Georgina Lee georgina.lee@scmp.com
·4 min read

Hong Kong-based online art and collectibles platform Oriental Culture is banking on its Nasdaq listing to improve its brand image and to drive credibility in the sector.

The company, which debuted on the New York-based exchange on Tuesday, has offered more than 140 types of collectibles and artworks valued at more than 5 billion yuan (US$765 million) for trade since its launch in 2018. It is the second such Hong Kong company to list in New York, after Takung Art debuted on the New York Stock Exchange in 2017.

Oriental Culture hopes that as more online art and collectibles platforms list, they will improve the credibility of a sector dogged by a history of scams, Lewis Wan, its chief executive, said.

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"What we really want to achieve through the listing is an improvement of our brand image, and [to inject] credibility in the market for collectibles. The net proceeds raised come second after that," Wan said.

China's collectibles market, estimated to be worth at least 100 billion yuan, has been blighted by inflated values for rare stamps, postage seals and antique coins, which have hurt buyers. And in many instances, their losses have come at the hands of illicit trading platforms, where fraud and scams are common.

A rare Kweichow Moutai, bottle, estimated to be worth between HK$50,000 and HK$70,000 by Sotheby's. Photo: Handout alt=A rare Kweichow Moutai, bottle, estimated to be worth between HK$50,000 and HK$70,000 by Sotheby's. Photo: Handout

Oriental Culture chose Nasdaq over Hong Kong also because companies listed on the US exchange are viewed as more international and having better long-term growth potential, Wan said. It has raised just US$20.2 million from its initial public offering and plans to use the proceeds to improve its information technology infrastructure and to expand into the US market. It had about 91,000 users as of June.

The company, which has about 50 employees split between Hong Kong and Nanjing, hopes to expand its services to include calligraphy, jewellery, antique furniture and Chinese wines such as fiery liquor Kweichow Moutai, which normally more than 1,000 yuan and whose vintage can also affect its value.

Wan said he expected the number of such cultural asset exchanges to go down to about 32 from 60 currently, following years of crackdown by Beijing, which has sought to limit their numbers to one per province since 2011. This could potentially create opportunities for platforms in Hong Kong.

Oriental Culture said it chose Nasdaq over Hong Kong because companies listed on the US exchange are viewed as more international and having better long-term growth potential. Photo: Reuters alt=Oriental Culture said it chose Nasdaq over Hong Kong because companies listed on the US exchange are viewed as more international and having better long-term growth potential. Photo: Reuters

"This is a prime opportunity for the government to nurture the uniqueness of Hong Kong as an international asset management hub. Every financial centre can offer the trading of securities or gold. But the trading of Chinese cultural assets is unique to Hong Kong," Wan said.

Oriental Culture currently operates more like an e-commerce platform, despite calling itself a "digital asset exchange" or "artworks exchange". It is currently not covered by Hong Kong's securities laws, and Wan said he hoped that the city's regulators will put in place a licensing framework for art and collectibles market places.

The company, which has a warehouse in Nanjing, takes in collectibles from customers and performs appraisals to determine their authenticity. But the coronavirus pandemic, which affected mainland China during the first quarter of this year, ground its business to a halt.

Its revenue is mainly driven by listing fees, followed by transaction fees and marketing fees. For the six months ended June 30, Oriental Culture's net income totalled US$373,000, a drop of 94 per cent from the US$6.3 million it earned during the same period a year earlier.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2021 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.