Report cites 60% of London auction lots failed to achieve expected prices; Sotheby’s stock falls 7%

March 7th, 2008

Francis Bacon portrait being auctioned via Sotheby’s via

The evening sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury & Co. this February raised the most money ever for a series of contemporary sales. However, a report issued by an art market firm on Thursday indicated that the majority of items sold at the low end of their estimates, meaning that the enormous sales numbers may be masking a more disappointing trend.

Sotheby’s sets auction record with sale of Bacon nude [ArtObserved]
Sotheby’s stock down 7% after report is issued [Bloomberg]
Art Report say 60% of February sales lots missed estimate [Bloomberg]
February auction activity roundup [ArtObserved]

Sotheby’s stock, aptly, “BID” was at $29.09, down $2.16, or 6.9% on the New York Stock Exchange composite trading on Thursday after the report was issued. (The other two auction companies are privately held.)

Setting record prices for ‘masterpiece’ works, while other lots remain unsold or undersold, may indicate a decrease in demand for middle works. Both collectors and dealers seem to be moving toward buying for quality and not quantity, perhaps in preparation for an impending bubble bust. Interestingly, just 10 lots accounted for 70% of the total of sales at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s, where two Francis Bacon paintings sold for £26.3 million and £20 million, respectively.