Sotheby’s Loss Widens to $54M in 3rd Quarter

The auction house cites seasonal factors and sees "encouraging" signs that the art market "could be looking for a rallying point.”
Matthew HellerNovember 7, 2016
Sotheby’s Loss Widens to $54M in 3rd Quarter

Sotheby’s posted a steep loss in its latest quarter but assured investors the deficit was seasonal and the art market may be headed for a rally.

The auction house said Monday it lost $54.5 million for the third quarter, compared to an adjusted net loss of $17.9 million a year ago. It attributed the decline in part to the change in the timing of the summer contemporary art sales in London, which took place in the second quarter this year after being scheduled in the third quarter in 2015.

“This shift in timing accounted for $197 million, or 93%, of the $211 million decline in net auction sales from quarter to quarter,” Sotheby’s said.

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On an adjusted basis, excluding certain items, the loss was 78 cents a share, beating analysts’ estimates of 62 cents a share. Revenue dropped 34% to $91.5 million, but came in above forecasts of $82 million.

“The third-quarter results were not expected to be good,” Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith said in a news release. “Underneath our seasonally low level of sales, there were encouraging but tentative indicators that the market could be looking for a rallying point.”

He also told investors during an earnings call that “when the market does stabilize, Sotheby’s will be poised to do very well for shareholders.”

Sotheby’s private sales almost doubled to $167.9 million in the third quarter, from $84.9 million in 2015, while its losses were partly offset by an increase in commission margin, to 16.5% from 15.3%.

But ARTnews noted that “even when adjusting for the numbers to account for last year’s anomalous uptick in revenue, what appeared to be a 57 percent decline is still an 8 percent decline. Last year, the $17.9 million loss was an improvement on the year before.”

Sotheby’s expects lower sales in the fourth quarter, a decline consistent with a 26% drop in the overall art market over the past nine months.

“There are a lot of factors that look positive,” Smith said. “But prudence dictates that we should wait and see.”

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