Sotheby's May 2018 auction that included Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) which sold for $157.2m.

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The US-listed auction house said profit, or adjusted net income, improved by 5.9% to $128.9m and operating income rose 9% to $181.3m. 

Private sales recorded the highest total in five years for the auction house, reaching $1.02bn, a 37% increase on the previous year.

Online buyers spent $220.4m – across live and online-only sales, as well on its retail websites, Sotheby’s Home and Sotheby’s Wine. This is a 24% increase on the previous year. Its drive online continued with 37% of all lots sold in 2018 bought online and it welcomed 11,000 new bidders in 2018 for its online-only sales.

Improving technology

Chief executive officer Tad Smith said the auction house fulfilled its “objective to substantially improve” on the previous year. He added: “We have the potential to deliver even better results in 2019 by improving technology and processes for clients, though, as always, market conditions will be a factor.” 

Its top lot of the year was Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) which sold for $157.2m in May.

Sotheby’s reported a number of categories had recorded substantial growth during the year including watches (up nearly 57%), wine (up nearly 41%), Old Master paintings (up 33%), contemporary art (up 14%), Chinese works of art (up 14%) and Impressionist and modern art (up nearly 9%).   

Earlier this month rival auction house Christie’s reported total sales for 2018 at £5.3bn ($7bn), up 3% on the previous year or up 6% in US dollar terms due to currency fluctuations. This 2018 sales total was the highest annual total for the company in terms of pounds. But in US dollars it is the fourth-highest figure after 2014, 2015 and 2013. Christie's is privately owned and does not publish profit figures. 

All sales figures include buyer’s premium and fees.

Sotheby’s 2018 full-year results in numbers:

  • 16% rise in total sales to $6.4bn (£4.8bn)
  • 5.9% rise in profit (adjusted net income) to $128.9m
  • 9% rise in operating income to $181.3m 
  • 15% rise in global auction sales to $5.3bn
  • 37% increase in private sales to $1.02bn
  • 24% rise in online sales to $220.4m
  • 37% of all lots sold in 2018 were bought online
  • 11,000 new bidders for online-only sales
  • 50,000+ lots sold across 400+ live and online-only auctions
  • $1bn sales in Asia – highest in Sotheby’s 45-year history in the region