Sotheby’s Says Auction Sales Probably Fell in First Half

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

Sotheby’s auction sales in the first half of 2012 are likely to drop from a year earlier amid a decline in single-owner art collections consigned to the New York auctioneer, a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission said.

“Single-owner sales are hard to predict,” Chief Financial Officer William Sheridan said in an interview. “The first half of 2011 was particularly strong.”

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

Sotheby’s 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.

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

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

‘No Slowdown’

Ruprecht said the first-quarter results don’t reflect a slowdown in demand for art.

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. Its contemporary art sale last night totaled $266.6 million.

“The business feels good,” Sheridan said in the interview. “The last two weeks have been terrific.”

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.

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. Sotheby's chief competitor is Christie's.

Today’s Muse highlights include New York Weekend and Lewis Lapham on books.

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