Auction gavel
Higher auction commission margins were a key factor in Sotheby’s latest set of results.

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Among the eyecatching figures was an increase from 15.4% to 18% in the ‘Auction Commission Margin’ – effectively the saleroom’s average cut when an object sells at auction.

Higher returns from private sales, which were up 41% for the quarter, were also an important factor in the improvement over the results posted for the first quarter of 2017.

“In this seasonally quiet first quarter, our results improved significantly, reflecting greater confidence in the market, said Tad Smith, Sotheby’s president and chief executive officer.

“Looking ahead, we also see signs of strengthening in the consignments for our important upcoming sales of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Art in New York that take place next week.”

For the first quarter of 2017, Sotheby’s reported a net loss of $11.3m which represented a $14m improvement when compared to the equivalent period last year. Posting a first-quarter loss is not unusual given the two main auction seasons traditionally occur in the second and fourth quarters of the year.

Sotheby’s results: In Numbers

- 3%

Auction sales were down 3% for the first quarter of 2017.


Sotheby’s auction commission margin was up to 18% from 15.4% for the period. This represents the fifth consecutive quarter of improvement.


Private sales were up 41% for the quarter.


The average price of lots sold in the first quarter of 2017 was 116% of the low estimate. This compares to 94% for the equivalent period last year.


For next week’s sales of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary art in New York, Sotheby’s has issued $217m in gross guarantees to consignors. However, its net exposure is only $40m after offsetting the risk with irrevocable bids. Twenty of the 36 guaranteed lots for those auctions have irrevocable bids.


The estimated value of works held in Sotheby’s inventory – this is down from $205m in March 2016. Works become owned by Sotheby’s when lots fail to sell with fully-backed guarantees.


Sotheby’s recorded a 30% jump in online bidders in the first quarter of 2017.