Sunday, January 01, 2006

Lifestyle: Weekend FT, Make That Two Ferraris

By Julie Earle-Levine, Published: December 23 2005

New Bentley Continental GT - tick. Foie gras dinner for 50 - tick. New penthouse apartment - tick. A fresh-cut Christmas tree from Michigan, delivered and decorated - tick. Three levels of Christmas decorations at Tribeca apartment - tick. Week in a private, oceanfront villa on Brazil's Cacoa coast - tick.

Wall Streeters are giving themselves a lavish spread this holiday season. Thanks to bullish earnings at investment banks, the highest bonuses in years - from several hundred thousand dollars up to a reported $20m - are rumoured to be in the financial pipeline, and though most bankers, traders and hedge funds don't get the cash until early 2006, many have been pre-spending what is estimated to be a total of $17bn.

What are they buying? We asked the experts (names have been deleted for obvious reasons).Start with travel. According to Nathaniel Waring, president of Cox & Kings USA, the high-endprivate travel company, one equity manager with his own firm indulged in a $100,000 one-week trip to Brazil for Christmas and new year, staying in penthouse suites in Copacabana, then travelling by private jet to the Txai Resort in Bahai and holidaying in a three-bedroom villa on the beach.

Another New York banker spent $70,000 on a 10-day package at the Ritz Carlton, Grand Cayman, including a four-hour private snorkelling tour, a seven-course dinner cruise for two, and ringside seats for an opening gala with Tony Bennett.A lower-level younger man had booked a $600-a-night room at La Samanna, a luxury resort in St Martin, French West Indies, and then heard about his big bonus and re-booked, taking the $2,700-a-night room.

Then there are the facelifts. Neil Sadick, a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon with a Park Avenue practice in Manhattan, says: "We are seeing a lot of men getting bonuses and getting major stuff done - liposuction and fillers. They are spending $500 to $10,000 per procedure.

Many are repeat customers and are agedfrom their early 30s to their 60s." "There are bankers, traders, executives who want to look younger in high-powered jobs and they come to us. Some of it is for their second wives," says Sadick, who is also president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Foundation.

Another popular luxury is food. At Petrossian, the Tiffany of caviar purveyors, executives are buying beluga caviar for themselves and as gifts - which may not sound so over-the-top until you realise the US recently extended its ban on beluga. "One man bought a kilo of beluga, and 50g of Imperial Special Reserve Persicus caviar for $11,400. The beluga was $7,600," a store spokeswoman says.They are also snapping up Oestra caviar at $3,500 a kilo. "We have many New York customers who are buying one to three kilos of Oestra for parties," said Frank Schaefer, chief executive of Caviar Creator, a Miami-based company.

Cars come in for some action too. Maurizio Parlato, president and chief executive of Ferrari North America, says, "We saw a big increase in traffic this month and because our cars are pre-ordered with aone- to two-year waitinglist, this makes a significant impact."

The car of the moment is the F430 coupé (starting price $170,045) and the recently launched Ferrari Superamerica, a two-seat convertible, is also selling well. "Some clients are paying cash."There is strong interest in a new Porsche Cayman due to be released in January and a new Bentley Continental GT ($175,000), according to Brian Miller, general manager of Manhattan Motorcars. "Everyone wants this one. The entertainment types, bankers and hedge fund guys. This year we've sold 200 of them and expect to sell 30 in December. There has also been a lot of activity with Lamborghini ($170,000 to $200,00) and we are seeing the $300,000 version sold out for 60 days. We need more!"

But perhaps more than any other gift, Wall Streeters are buying real estate. Keith Copley, of Sotheby's International Realty, has seen bidding wars in recent weeks, mostly among young hedge fund players. Three are competing for a $6m "celebrity style loft" called the Glass Farmhouse with views of the Hudson River. "All these guys are in their 30s," he says.

Meanwhile, Dolly Lenz, vice-chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman, is seeing the trend trickle down to those with "smaller bonuses" of $3m or so. Last week she sold 20 units in one building, 55 Wall Street, a full-service Cipriani Club Residence. "These guys won't get paid until February but they are using all their bonus money to buy and rent out apartments," she says. "It's the usual suspects - Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Chase, the hedge fund guys." Another client, aged 33, got a $20m bonus and bought in Southampton on the ocean for $28m.And what about the traditional stuff?

One Manhattan member of Quintessentially, the global concierge service, is planning to give his girlfriend a Christmas stocking with Crème de la Mer cream, underwear by La Perla, and a platinum, diamond and ruby studded necklace from Cartier's Orchid collection. It makes the rest of what the company has been asked to source - a new Jaguar, Birkin bags (skipping the waiting list of course), vintage wine and jewels - look almost pedestrian by comparison.