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Thu 4 Aug 2011 10:40 AM

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Record art sales push Sotheby’s to best quarter yet

Rebound of art market gave auctioneer 48% rise in second quarter earnings to $3.4bn

Record art sales push Sotheby’s to best quarter yet
Visitors stand next to artwork to be auctioned off by Sothebys at Arts of the Islamic World in a preview exhibition in Doha

Sotheby’s, the world’s largest publicly traded auctioneer of fine arts and collectibles, said second-quarter earnings rose 48 percent for its best quarter ever.

Net income was $127.2m, or $1.81 a share, up from $86.2m, or $1.26 a share, a year earlier, the company said in a statement. Second-quarter revenue rose 31 percent to $369.8m.

“This is the best quarter in Sotheby’s history,” Sotheby’s chief executive officer William Ruprecht said in a statement.

The company’s sales were a record $3.4bn in the first half of 2011. Quarterly operating expenses rose $39.4m, or 28 percent, primarily because of higher incentive compensation costs and to new hiring and salary increases, the statement said.

“You do better, we pay more,” Ruprecht said in a conference call with investors and analysts. “We have considerable confidence in the robustness of the art market as we see it.”

Sotheby’s shares rose 22 cents to $39.94 today in New York Stock Exchange trading. They’re down 11 percent this year. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is little changed in 2011.

The results were released after the close of regular trading.

Art handlers represented by Teamsters Local 814 are picketing Sotheby’s York Ave. headquarters, saying they were locked out by the company. Diana Phillips, a Sotheby’s spokeswoman, said in a statement that the company has had talks since May to reach a new contract with the handlers.

Sotheby’s made “alternative arrangements” given the union’s threats of a strike, she said.

The lockout took hold a month before the start of the critical fall sales, which last season took in hundreds of millions of dollars for Sotheby's and rival Christie's.

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