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Soaring Prices Produce Record Highs for Auctioneers

Sotheby’s and Christie’s credited the booming art market and a stellar spring auction season with yet another round of record half-year totals. On Aug. 8, Sotheby’s reported that for the first six months of 2007, revenues were $486.9 million, a 41 percent increase over the first six months of 2006. Christie’s International, a privately held

NEW YORK—Sotheby’s and Christie’s credited the booming art market and a stellar spring auction season with yet another round of record half-year totals.

On Aug. 8, Sotheby’s reported that for the first six months of 2007, revenues were $486.9 million, a 41 percent increase over the first six months of 2006. Christie’s International, a privately held company that is not required to disclose detailed financial statements, announced worldwide sales (including private sales) of £1.63 billion ($3.25 billion) for the first half of 2007, compared with £1.17 billion ($2.13 billion) for the same period a year ago. Christie’s said the current figure includes £82 million ($163 million) worth of private sales, including those at London’s high-profile Haunch of Venison, a contemporary art gallery acquired by Christie’s in February (ANL, 3/6/07).

Christie’s reportedly plans to open an office in Moscow, a key area of the art market boom in recent years. Sotheby’s opened a Moscow office in May (ANL, 6/12/07).

Sotheby’s CEO Bill Ruprecht called the first half of 2007 “historic by all standards. . . . In this six-month period we earned more than in any full year in our history.” The house claimed the highest price of the spring auctions when it sold Mark Rothko’s White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950, from the collection of David Rockefeller, for $72.8 million in May (ANL, 5/29/07).

For the second quarter of 2007, ended June 30, Sotheby’s reported revenues of $339.5 million, a $91.2 million, or 37 percent, jump from the prior year. The house said this was fueled in part by a 45 percent increase in private sales.

Income from continuing operations, a key measure of profitability, was $107.3 million, or $1.64 per diluted share, in the second quarter, compared with $72.4 million, or $1.17 a share, in the prior year. The second-quarter results represent the highest such figure in the company’s history. Among other highlights, the London sales in June realized $402.5 million, also a new high.

Sotheby’s further announced a 50 percent increase in its third-quarter dividend, boosting it from 10 cents in the year-ago quarter to 15 cents a share, reflecting an increase in the annual dividend rate from 40 cents to 60 cents a share. “Since the resumption of our dividend in August 2006 after a six-year hiatus,” Ruprecht noted, “our financial performance has been getting stronger.”

In the week following Sotheby’s earnings report, credit-rating agency Moody’s Investor Service upgraded its long-term debt ratings for Sotheby’s, citing the auction house’s “strong operating performance and increased cash on hand.”

In other news, Sotheby’s announced in late July the appointment of Lisa Dennison, former director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, as executive vice president, North America. Dennison will be responsible for international business development and client relationships.

During an earnings conference call on Aug. 8, Sotheby’s announced it had sold 391 lots for more than $1 million each in the first half of the year. This prompted rival auction house Christie’s to issue a revised release on Aug. 10 noting that in July it had originally reported selling 358 lots for over $1 million each. “This figure was without premium,” according to a Christie’s statement. Continuing, it said, “This week a competitor reported selling 391 lots for over $1 million in the first half of the year. With premium, Christie’s International sold 430 lots over $1 million in the first half of the year. We would like you to have this information for accurate comparison.”

In the days following issuance of its earnings report, Sotheby’s share price jumped from about $44 to $50. But market volatility in the ensuing weeks, tied to turmoil in the credit markets, pushed the share price down under $38. In recent days, shares began climbing once more, rebounding to $40. As ARTnewsletter went to press, the stock was trading near $43.

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