Sotheby’s Has First-Quarter Loss as Auction Sales Drop

Sotheby's in New York. The company is expanding in Asia. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Sotheby’s reported a first-quarter loss as auction sales dropped 29 percent from a year earlier.

The New York auctioneer lost $10.7 million, or 16 cents a share, compared with a profit of $2.4 million, or 3 cents a share, a year earlier, it said in a statement. Revenue fell 12 percent to $105 million.

Sotheby’s said expenses rose 5 percent as it spent more to develop its “presence in growth markets.”

The loss per share was in line with estimates of six analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Chief Executive Officer William Ruprecht said first-quarter results would have been comparable to a year earlier were it not for an “exceptional” single-owner sale in February 2011 that totaled $132 million.

“As the excellent results of our May auctions make abundantly clear, the first-quarter results are in no way reflective of a slowdown in demand for works of art around the world,” he said in a statement.

Last week, Sotheby’s sold a version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” for $119.9 million, the highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction.

The auctioneer typically posts a small loss or profit in the first and third quarters. Its biggest auctions are held in the second and fourth quarters.

Sotheby’s shares are down about 22 percent in the past 12 months. Today, they fell $1.40 to $34.04 in New York Stock Exchange trading.

At year-end, Sotheby’s said it accounted for 51 percent of the auction sales of fine art and decorative art, jewelry and collectibles worldwide between the two major auction houses, up from 49 percent in 2010. Its annual sales were $5 billion, up 16 percent.

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