Art and real estate are the new gold, says Blackrock CEO

The rich have always found creative ways to safeguard their wealth—Swiss banks accounts, safes hidden behind the walls and, of course, bars of gold.

But now, gold is being replaced as a store of wealth by a new breed of investments. According to BlackRock CEO Laurence D. Fink, art and real estate are outshining gold as a means of securing today's fortunes.

"Historically gold was a great instrument for storing of wealth," the chairman of BlackRock said Tuesday at the 2015 Credit Suisse Megatrends conference in Singapore. "Gold has lost its luster and there's other mechanisms in which you can store wealth that are inflation-adjusted."

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Fink said that as gold became more widely owned through ETFs and other financial instruments, it has become less attractive. The price of gold is down by more than a third from its recent peak in 2011.

Art and real estate have become better stores of value, Fink said.

Larry Fink
Katie Kramer | CNBC
Larry Fink

"The two greatest stores of wealth internationally today is contemporary art … and I don't mean that as a joke, I mean that as a serious asset class," said Fink. "And two, the other store of wealth today is apartments in Manhattan, apartments in Vancouver, in London."

Fink's comments were reported by Bloomberg, and confirmed by BlackRock.

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Clearly, a Picasso or Rothko may be more enjoyable to look than a pile of gold. And despite being called "stash pads," New York penthouses and London pied-a-terres are more useful as shelters than even the most luxurious safe deposit box. Yet how have art and real estate done as investments compared to gold?

The results are mixed.

Over the past year, gold is down 7 percent. But it's up 4 percent over the last five years and up 179 percent over the past decade.

Art has been stronger, but in real estate, the results are all about location.

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Art is up 15 percent over the last year, up 61 percent over the past five years and up 252 percent over the past decade, according to the most recent Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index.

In London, real estate has done a bit better. Prime residential prices are up 3 percent in the past year, up 45 percent in the past five years and 138 percent in the past 10 years, according to Knight Frank.

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According to Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel, prices for prime residential real estate in New York were down 4.4 percent over the past year. But they are up 38 percent over the past five years and up 67 percent over the past 10 years.

The median sales price of a Manhattan apartment hit $970,000 in the first quarter, basically flat from last year, according to the Douglas Elliman real estate company.

So while art and London real estate have outperformed gold, prime New York City real estate has lagged.

What's more, the markets for art and real estate are far less liquid than gold. Real estate brokers and art dealers have done an admirable job convincing the wealthy in recent years that trophy purchases like art, wine and penthouses are really asset classes and investments. And when markets are going up, they appear to be right.

Yet it remains to be seen how these new classes hold up in a crisis, when the wealthy need to convert those trophies back into cash.

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