Sotheby’s have followed Christie’s in restructuring their buyer’s premiums, but have pushed the thresholds even higher than their rivals in the bid for better yields.
Effective from March 15 - four days after Christie's
new structure comes into force - Sotheby's will charge 25% on
the first $100,000/£50,000 of hammer price, 20% on the portion of
hammer price above $100,000/£50,000 up to and including $2m/£1m;
and 12% on any remaining amount above $2m/£1m.
With exchange rates as they are, it means
that buyers in the US paying between $80,000 and $1.6m hammer will
pay a higher rate of premium than at Sotheby's sales in London.
The move, announced in Sotheby's latest set
of results, marks the first significant divergence between the two
rival auctions houses in buyer's premiums in recent years.
The results also showed that Sotheby's have
opted for a short-term hit in costs to improve their long-term
liquidity, credit facility and financing costs.
Global Sales Totals
This move to safeguard the company's future
and raise the stakes in competing for consignments comes at a time
when, although narrowing the gap with Christie's, Sotheby's
remained 14% behind in global sales totals for 2012, at $5.4bn
(£3.38bn) compared to the $6.27bn (£3.92bn) for Christie's.
Overall profits were down $63.1m (37%) at
The increasing importance of private sales
was shown in their 11% rise to $906.5m - matching the 17% share of
all revenues in 2011. Associated commissions were up $6.8m (10%).
Meanwhile finance revenues, associated with loans and other
facilities, rose by $5.7m (47%) and, at the year end, Sotheby's
finance segment loan portfolio balance was $425.1m, almost double
what it had been the year before.
Whether this is linked to the record level
of sales from single-owner collections is not clear, but that
record comes at a time when auction revenues as a whole fell by
$79.5m (9.4%) to $717.2m in the wake of a 10% decline in net
It also comes as disciplines become more
polarised. November 13 saw the highest auction total in the
company's history when the New York
Contemporary art evening sale took $375.2m, while the firm also
registered their highest-ever annual totals for jewellery and
The focus of change appears to underscore
what chief executive Bill Ruprecht called the "very competitive
climate for high-end consignments". He acknowledged the "stiff
comparison" to 2011, "one of the best years in Sotheby's history",
indicating that new markets in China and Brazil, as well as further
honing of client services, would be priorities.
Significantly, he also talked in detail
about the company's online offer, something that has been
noticeably missing in previous reports.
"We are pushing innovations on our web platform to make art more
accessible and to reward our best clients," he said. "We offer our
clients personalised account information in the language of their
choice, we're the only auction house to provide digital catalogues
and a magazine in downloadable format, and the only auction house
with a Catalogue App program that offers twirling 360 degree views,
note taking, real-time sale results and video."