Wednesday - 10 February 2016

Sotheby’s auction totals up but private sales fall

18 August 2014Written by Alex Capon

Sotheby’s figures for the first half of 2014 saw a significant increase in auction totals help them to a 20% rise in operating income compared to the equivalent period last year.

Auction sales were up 24% thanks primarily to expansion at the top of the art market. Some 487 individual lots made over $1m (with premium) in the opening six months of this year.

However, while Sotheby's earnings summary gave little mention of the financial performance of their private sales departments, the company's latest filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission indicated that revenues here had fallen 48%, down from $561m in the first six months of 2013 to $294m over the current period.

This was mainly down to a smaller number of big-ticket items sold privately but it has also been suggested that the very public battle between activist shareholder Daniel Loeb and the Sotheby's board may well have deterred some owners from selling works with the firm.

The same filing also showed the company has incurred $24.3m in 'special charges' related to Loeb's challenge (primarily advisory and legal costs). This has seen Sotheby's share price fall by over 20% in the first half of 2014 - a period when the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed by over 15%.

Restructuring Plan

The truce which saw Loeb secure a seat on the company's board has seen Sotheby's begin a restructuring plan that involves "the reallocation of resources to collecting categories and regions with the highest potential for growth".

When asked by ATG whether redundancies will take place in other departments as part of the proposed $13m worth of cuts, the company sent a statement saying that they have "identified areas for cost savings as well as growth and additional investment".

It reads: "Some departments will be expanded and new positions created, while other areas will see modest staff reductions by the end of the year. Our goal is to build on the strong results we have been achieving, continue to increase our ability to compete in the marketplace, and better serve our clients."

Other key figures from Sotheby's results for the six months to June 30 include:

• Contemporary art auction sales were up 24% and jewellery by 34%.

• Sales at Sotheby's Hong Kong and Beijing increased 56%.

• There was a 35% increase in the number of buyers from Mainland China in Sotheby's auctions globally.

• A quarter of all buyers were first-time clients.

• Total expenses increased 22% due to higher salaries, costs related to transactions completed in the period, and special charges.

• John James Audubon's elephant-folio The Birds of America sold in April 2014 for $3.5m (including premium) - the top online purchase so far in a live auction at Sotheby's.

• After opening the London branch of S|2, Sotheby's private gallery hosted Banksy: The Unauthorised Retrospective, which drew 16,000 visitors, making it one of the most visited commercial gallery shows ever staged in the capital.


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