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For Christie’s this represents a fall of 23 per cent year on year, for Sotheby’s 16 per cent. As a private company, Christie’s do not reveal their earnings, but Sotheby’s announced full year revenues of $336.2m (2000: $397.8m), a third of which was earned in the final quarter. Net losses for the final quarter were down, however, from $6.5m in 2000 to $0.4m.

Sotheby’s US auction sales fell by 22 per cent, blamed at least partly on the US terrorist attacks, with a four per cent drop in Europe once currency fluctuations were taken out of the equation.

While Christie’s concentrate on the number of lots sold above $1m (153), Sotheby’s give considerable detail about their cost control and plans for revenue growth. Sotheby’s have cut operating expenses by $69m through a number of initiatives, such as cutting back staff and refocusing company activity, as well as restructuring their salerooms and tying in their Internet business with eBay.

Their liabilities linked to the antitrust activities have also considerably decreased. As the level of savings has been considerably boosted by a number of one-off initiatives, the company will have to look to more general controls for the coming year to keep costs down.

Sotheby’s had to pay out $19.8m in 2001 in incentives to retain staff in the face of poaching from rivals.

However, the Phillips and Bonhams merger and restructuring, as well as job cuts at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, has now left a wealth of expertise looking for employment, so retention costs should be considerably lower for the coming year.

Executive vice president Robin Woodhead told Antiques Trade Gazette that the modernisation of the business throughout the year, with sales focused on a smaller number of salerooms, would also help to rein in costs.

Charges rise

Just as important is the boosting of revenues for the coming year, which Sotheby’s plan to implement with the increase in commissions and premiums.

“We need to improve our operating revenues as costs increase,” said Mr Woodhead. To this end, from April 1 buyer’s premiums will be revised in Bond Street, New York and Geneva, where a two-tier structure will come into place: it will be 19.5 per cent on prices up to $100,000 and 10 per cent on everything above that. Except in Hong Kong, existing local rates will remain unchanged in the other salerooms, including Olympia.
Internet commissions will also stay the same.

Mr Woodhead said that the year ahead would be about focusing on the core sales activities, particularly in Olympia and Paris, where they expect to develop a full auction programme as well as sourcing material for elsewhere.

Highlights of the coming year include the complete manuscript score of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture as well as the rediscovered Rubens, The Massacre of the Innocents.