Billionaire Steven Cohen buys a Picasso: Vanity or investment?

Christopher Burge, chairman of Christie's (L), ends the bidding for Pablo Picasso's painting, 'Le Reve', on November 10, 1997 in New York after an unidentified person bid $48 million.

Steven Cohen is the billionaire owner of SAC Capital Advisors. He is most often in the news these days due to a federal investigation of insider trading at his hedge fund. Today, though, it's a little side deal that's making headlines -- a Picasso purchase.
 
When casino developer Steve Wynn put his elbow through Picasso's "Le Reve" it turns out he didn't hurt his investment. Wynn just sold the painting to his friend Steven Cohen for -- that's right -- $155 million, more than double what he paid for it. That's apparently an exception to the rule.

"High price paintings tend to underperform the market," says Michael Moses, co-founder of the Mei Moses Fine Art Index, which tracks the value of art. He says the average compound annual return is about 8 percent.

"If you look at paintings that were originally purchased for over a million dollars, that return drops to about two percent," says Moses.
 
According to Moses, preserving wealth is one of the biggest reasons why wealthy people buy art, besides the thrill of the chase, and the fun of showing off a famous painting to your friends.

And this is just Cohen's latest acquisition -- he's known for having one of the world's best private art collections, as part of his diversified portfolio. And Cohen's Picasso will most likely continue to increase in value.
 
"These artists just continue to push the numbers," says New York-based Art adviser Renée Vara. "I mean they're better than buying gold as a commodity."

Vara says painting sales over $100 million are increasingly common. But collectors hoping for a bump from this sale are out of luck, unless they own a Picasso too.

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