Sunday - 23 November 2014

Auction revenues jostle for space alongside loans and private sales at Sotheby’s

14 August 2013Written by Ivan Macquisten

Global sales for the first half of 2013 at Sotheby’s totalled $3.14bn (£2.05bn), their latest set of results reveal.

Meanwhile, company revenues for the period stand at $406.6m (£265.7m) and profits at $69.4m (£45.4m), a year-on-year fall of 7.7%.

The results compare to global sales recently reported for Christie's at $3.68bn (£2.4bn), the gap between the two auction houses in this area matching almost exactly that recorded for the first six months of 2012.

However, at least part of Sotheby's attention now appears to have been diverted to the expansion of other revenue streams such as their loans portfolio.

Beyond the headline figures, Sotheby's noted that their restructuring of the buyer's premium in March as part of the growing competition for consignments meant that they had taken more in fees from buyers but, consequently, less from vendors. Overall, however, auction commission margins were up slightly for the second quarter.

Another major focus of activity has been investment in emerging markets in China and the Middle East as well as the internet, an additional expense that the firm hope to slightly offset in future by savings made from recent debt restructuring.

At auction, they have also reassured shareholders that guarantees used to secure key consignments will take the form of irrevocable bids, where the risk is offset to third parties rather than carried in-house.

Financial Services

If that source of potential income has shrunk in the past few years, Sotheby's Financial Services has been doing its bit to make up the shortfall, with the loan portfolio growing by almost 30% year on year to $430m (£281m). The company are also looking at new options for expanding this activity but have yet to adopt any firm proposals.

Private sales continue to be another area of intense competition as a comparatively low-cost, high-return method of doing business, and Sotheby's have announced the opening of a Contemporary private sales gallery, S|2 in London this autumn, following similar openings in Hong Kong and New York - 65% of clients who transacted with the firm privately in the first half of 2013 did so for the first time, they said.

Web Development

The release of significantly more information on their website offering indicates that Sotheby's have grown in confidence when it comes to their internet strategy.

In the past few years online statistics and results have been notable by their absence in company reports, but now they have revealed that more than 30% of all saleroom clients during the first six months of 2013 registered for their paddles on Sotheby's website, and web platform developments mean that clients now have the 'Martini' option of being able to carry out transactions at any time, from anywhere, on any device.

The board have also made it clear that they are prepared to consider selling both their New York and London headquarters.

"Any transaction has to deliver substantial post-mortgage value, while any sale must afford Sotheby's funds for attractive purpose-built new space, which meets the company's unique facility requirements," they stated.

Looking forward, highlights for the second half of the year include the firm's first automobile auction in New York for ten years on November 21, conducted in association with RM Auctions.

Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.

Back to top