Combined revenue for the third quarter 2019 at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips declined 24% YoY from US$688m in 2018 to US$526m in 2019.
While the revenue decline is disappointing, it can largely be explained by changes to the auction schedule; Sotheby’s in fact shifted its Hong Kong auction from the third quarter in 2018, September, to the fourth quarter in 2019, October.
Were revenue generated at the third quarter 2018 and 2019 Hong Kong and China auctions to be excluded, third quarter 2019 revenue actually rose from US$452m to US$503m, up 11% YoY. The growth was mostly driven by sales in the US, which were boosted by the strongest ever September mid-season Fine art results.
The third quarter 2019 results also provide signs of a further evolution in the structure of the auction schedule. In third quarter, 2019, the auction houses added many new day and especially online auctions.
Additionally, the auction houses continued to move towards holding smaller auctions, less than 200 lots, even in some cases, less than 100 lots, at the expense of larger auctions, more than 200 lots.
These are many interesting signs that the top three auction houses appear to be actively testing ways to grow and reinvent their auction sales.
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