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Christie’s Reports Sharp Drop in 2009 Global Sales

Christie’s reported worldwide sales of £2.1 billion ($3.3 billion) for last year, a 24 percent decrease in pounds and a 35 percent decrease in dollars from the auction house’s total sales in 2008.

NEW YORK—Christie’s reported worldwide sales of £2.1billion ($3.3billion) for last year, a 24 percent decrease in pounds and a 35 percent decrease in dollars from the auction house’s total sales in 2008. The total includes £265.7million ($417.2million) in private sales, which the house said was down 1 percent from the private-sales total of 2008. Private sales include those brokered directly by Christie’s and by its ­contemporary-art gallery arm, Haunch of Venison, which the house acquired in 2007.

Several auction-house experts noted that private sales have remained robust despite the downturn in the art market, as sellers concerned about setting accurate auction estimates or the risk of a ­high-profile failure at auction have turned to confidential deals as an alternative.

Most of Christie’s key departments experienced a decline in sales last year in comparison with 2008. Sales of Impressionist and modern art last year totalled £500.9million ($786.4million), a 24 percent decline in pounds and a 34 percent decline in dollars, while sales of Postwar and contemporary art totaled £244.3million ($386.6million), a 59 percent decline in pounds and a 65 percent decline in dollars.

According to a statement from the auction house, though sales volume decreased from that of previous years, “the stability of the art market and the appetite of the global buying audience were demonstrated by a significant increase in average auction sold rates by lot.” Christie’s reported that last year the average sold-by-lot rate rose by 5 percentage points, to 80 percent.

CEO Edward Dolman said, “The market outlook is confident and is underpinned by the returning dominance of private buyers from the Americas, the Middle East, as well as mainland China and Asia.” Asked whether this improved outlook would lead to the return of auction guarantees, Dolman responded, “We continue to consider guarantees on a highly selective basis and generally seek to use third parties to provide the funding and assume the risk. We and our consignors were very pleased with this week’s London results and we welcome the continued confidence we are seeing in the art market, and we intend to maintain our financial discipline as the market expands.”

Sotheby’s, which as a publicly traded company is required to file details of its quarterly and annual results with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said it expects to announce its ­fourth-quarter and overall 2009 results early next month.

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