Auctions Market United Kingdom

Auction figures for 2013 are in—and Christie’s again takes the crown

Analysis reveals mixed results for the main houses, but big gains for all in Asia

Christie’s sold $2bn-worth of Modern and contemporary art in 2013, versus Sotheby’s $1.4bn

Christie’s beat Sotheby’s to the global auction house top-spot for the second year running, selling $800m more at auction than its rival in 2013. On Wednesday 22 January, Christie’s announced that its total auction revenue for the year was $5.9bn, while Sotheby’s announced earlier this year an equivalent $5.1bn total.

It isn’t all glum for Sotheby’s, however. The firm’s total is the second-highest nominal amount in the company’s history (auction turnover was $5.4bn in 2007) and—as the firm was quick to point out—its revenue growth has been faster year-on-year than Christie’s (19% versus 12% in dollar terms).

What may hurt, however, is that—unsurprisingly, given Christie’s stellar evening auction results in New York last May and November—the bulk of the difference seems to have been made in the fashionable contemporary and Modern art category, in which Christie’s sold a total $2bn-worth of art in 2013, versus Sotheby’s $1.4bn. This segment of the market has been under intense scrutiny over the past few months. In early October, Dan Loeb, the owner of the hedge fund Third Point, having built up a 9.3% stake in Sotheby’s, openly expressed concern about the auction house’s contemporary and Modern art department. In November, Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art, “ended his association” with the firm.

A comparative glimmer for Sotheby’s investors came via the important Impressionist and modern department: here Sotheby’s sales grew by 20% to $1.1bn year-on-year, while Christie’s sales fell marginally (by 1%), to $1bn.

Sales in Asia—where the bulk of the two houses’ revenues are made in in Hong Kong, but where both also held their first mainland China auctions in 2013—improved throughout, after a steep fall during 2012. Christie’s reported a total $977.5m sales in Asia in 2013, up from $705.4m in 2012; Sotheby’s made a total $931.4m, up more than a third from 2012 ($592.9m).

China’s leading auction houses, Poly Auction and China Guardian, also reported improved sales for 2013, after auction revenue had halved in the previous year. At Beijing Poly Auction, revenues from auction were up from Rmb6.1bn ($965m) in 2012 to Rmb7.9bn ($1.3bn) in 2013, while at China Guardian these were up from Rmb5.2bn ($820m) to Rmb6.6bn ($1bn).

Private sales at Christie’s were again up 20%, to $1.2bn. Sotheby’s has yet to report its final private sales figures (these will be included in its full year earnings figures, due in February) but said that these have reached $951.2m for the first nine months of 2013, up 37% since the end of 2012.

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