Saturday - 22 November 2014

Sotheby’s focus on shareholder value following challenge

18 November 2013Written by Ivan Macquisten

Driving value for shareholders is at the heart of Sotheby’s business review and ongoing strategy, as third-quarter results show a big rise in private treaty sales and a long-awaited boost from their online offer.

That's the message from chief executive Bill Ruprecht as the company also highlight sales running into the hundreds of millions of dollars in Hong Kong and New York.

Private sale revenues are up almost 77% in the third quarter over the same period last year, Sotheby's report, with auction commission revenues climbing 16% in the third quarter.

The year-on-year rise for private sales in the first nine months of the year stands at $951.2m, a 37% increase.

October's Hong Kong sale totals were up 105% on last year at $538m - a record sum, while the New York Impressionist and Modern Art sales took $348m, a 71% rise and the second-highest series total in this category in the company's history.

The Contemporary art sales were running in New York, boosted totals even higher.

Web Development

For the first time, Sotheby's have presented a detailed report on their web activity, indicating that they may have finally laid the ghost of more than a decade ago when they lost $40m on the original abortive launch.

"Since the relaunch of our website this summer, we have seen, on a monthly basis, as much as a 50% increase in traffic from our very best clients," says the company statement.

"Emerging Asian countries are among the fastest growing regions using our website - in the period surrounding our Hong Kong sales, the number of site visitors from certain regions in Asia increased more than six times over the same period last year."

Net losses - the third quarter is traditionally loss-making because of the seasonal nature of sales - are down 7.5% at £30.1m year on year, while profits for the first nine months are down 7.5% at $39.2m.

Loeb Criticism

All this comes as the board conduct an in-depth review of the company's financial policies and strategy following criticism from hedge fund investor Daniel Loeb, who has acquired almost 10% of the business and who unsuccessfully tried to oust chief executive and chairman Bill Ruprecht.

Sotheby's chief financial officer, Patrick McClymont, said: "We are committed to ensuring that our resources are appropriately allocated to the most attractive opportunities for value creation... The goal of this review is not only to determine the right use of capital going forward, but also to identify new opportunities to drive value for shareholders."

This will certainly involve some cost cutting at auctions, and the board have promised to unveil their plans next spring.

Mr Ruprecht summed up his vision of future success as "sustained commitment to clients", which he said was "the key to best serving them, our business and our shareholders".

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