Competion Between Christie's and Sotheby's

 The NY Times has an interesting article on the competition between Sotheby's and Christie's and what they do to attract buyers and sellers. The article enlightens readers on how for type consignments that commissions are not only slashed, but at times the entire fee is waived, while other times they will even give the seller a percentage of the buyers commission.  One of the points made in the article is there is such a limited number of buyers and sellers at the top end of the art market that the competition for consignments becomes intense.

It appears if you have an item that is in demand, everything is negotiable.

The NY Times reports
The competition is fierce, in part because the number of elite collectors is small. According to Christie’s, about 150 collectors worldwide can buy a painting for more than $20 million.

“It is small but it is growing,” said Mr. Murphy, whose company has been seeking to expand the number of collectors in countries like China and India.

Typically, a seller might pay about 10 percent commission on a $100,000 artwork. A buyer would pay about 25 percent. But for some works of art — commonly those worth $1 million or above — sellers don’t usually pay anything.

And the buyer’s fee, which drops to about 12 percent for works worth more than $2 million, can be split among many parties. For the most expensive works, the sellers can receive 4 percent to 7 percent of that fee on top of the hammer price, a practice called “enhanced hammer,” auction experts said. Some of the buyer’s fee can also go to an outside guarantor, an investor who promises to buy the work for a minimum price. (That investor also typically receives a share of any amount above the minimum price.) What’s left of the fee goes to the house.

Mr. Danziger, the art market lawyer, said that one of his clients, selling a postwar painting in November, received a part of the buyer’s fee, prominent placement on the auction website and in the catalog, and paid no commission. The work sold for seven figures.

Michael McGinnis, chief executive of the Phillips auction house, said marketing was a strategic way to promote sales and attract future business.

“You have to give some here to get some there,” he said.

In the case of the “Balloon Dog (Orange),” Christie’s arranged for an outside guarantor, identified several potential buyers, and structured the sale so it would get part of the buyer’s fee only if the price exceeded a certain target, which it failed to reach.

These arrangements cost a lot of money. Sotheby’s annual reports show that in 2011 and 2012, it gave up more than $40 million annually in sellers’ commissions, and analysts said this trend continued last year.

At Sotheby’s the total amount of buyers’ and sellers’ fees as a proportion of gavel prices has been falling steadily since 2009; in 2012, it was 16.3 percent, the lowest since 2008. Analysts expect a slightly lower number in 2013. In 2012, Sotheby’s profits were $108.3 million — up from 2008, but down from 2010 and 2011, when the market began to recover.

The figures for 2013 promise to be slightly better. But in November, the company acknowledged the economic pressures, including the negotiations over sellers’ commissions and buyers’ premiums. “Competition is still affecting our revenue margins,” Mr. Ruprecht said in a call with analysts at the time.

Analysts said similar pressures are playing out at Christie’s, though Christie’s may be better placed to weather the competition because it sells more lower-priced artwork, where profit margins are fatter.

Auction houses offer guarantees backed by outside investors, but can also guarantee works themselves. Now Sotheby’s is preparing to offer more such guarantees to the richest sellers. In June, it tripled its borrowing capacity to $300 million.

The level of Christie’s direct guarantees is unknown. But the total value of artwork carrying guarantees has been increasing for the past three years, accounting for 10 percent of Christie’s lots sold in 2012, the company said.

Both houses said their level of risk-taking is well below pre-2008 levels, and they are offloading liability by having outside investors take on some of the new guarantees.

In 2008, both auction houses ratcheted back guarantees after prices fell sharply, leaving them with millions of dollars in unsold works, as well as painful losses. Following that, Mr. Ruprecht said Sotheby’s was abandoning them almost entirely and returning to a simpler model as agents for buyers and sellers.

The auction houses have also expanded into private art sales, becoming dealers in their own right. The transformation can sometimes mean owning the art, with the risks this entails.

“The auction houses are not set up to calculate the financial risk,” said David Kusin, who runs Kusin & Company, a consulting firm in Dallas that specializes in the economics of the art market. “Getting into a business they are unsuited for and unprepared for puts all market participants at risk.”

To some in the industry, it sounds a bit like 2008. Howard Rachofsky, a Dallas collector and former hedge-fund manager, sold his own Koons sculpture, “Balloon Flower (Magenta)” back then for $25.7 million at Christie’s in London.

Christie’s offered him an outside guarantee, too, no seller’s commission and a share of the buyer’s fee.

“They didn’t make a lot, they made a little bit,” he said. “But in terms of visibility, it gives bragging rights.”
Source: The NY Times

No comments: