NEW YORK.- Sotheby’s today announced results for the fourth quarter and twelve months ended December 31, 2008. For the quarter ended December 31, 2008, the Company reported operating revenues of $166.2 million, a $179.6 million, or 52%, decrease from the fourth quarter of 2007. This deterioration is primarily due to a 46% decline in net auction sales from $1.9 billion to $1.0 billion, significant auction guarantee losses and inventory writedowns, all attributable to a downturn in the international art market that began in September 2008, and which resulted from a weakening global economy, as well as turbulence in the global financial and credit markets. For the fourth quarter ended December 31, 2008, the Company reported an operating loss of ($0.7) million and a net loss of ($8.5) million, or ($0.13) per share compared to operating income of $141.6 million and net income of $102.4 million, or $1.55 per diluted share for the fourth quarter of 2007. This decline is largely due to the aforementioned revenue decreases as well as a $13.2 million impairment loss in the Company’s Dealer segment related to goodwill and intangible assets and $4.3 million in restructuring charges. Partially offsetting the impact of these factors is a $44.4 million, or 45%, decrease in salaries and related costs over the period primarily due to a $26.7 million, or 75% decline in accrued incentive bonus costs as a result of the much lower profitability of the quarter as compared to the prior period. Fourth quarter adjusted operating income, which excludes the $13.2 million impairment loss as well as the $4.3 million in restructuring charges, is $16.8 million.
For the full year 2008, consolidated sales (aggregate auction sales, private sales and dealer revenues) were $5.3 billion and operating revenues were $691.6 million, representing decreases from the prior year of 14% and 25%, respectively, primarily due to the previously mentioned sales decline, auction guarantee losses and inventory writedowns experienced in the fourth quarter of 2008. Net income for the full year 2008 was $28.3 million, a $184.9 million, or 87%, decrease from the prior year largely due to the fourth quarter revenue shortfalls. Also contributing to the decreased profitability is a lower level of private sale commissions, higher borrowing costs and a higher effective tax rate, partially offset by lower salaries and related costs.
As discussed above, in the fourth quarter of 2008, the Company recorded restructuring charges of $4.3 million related to headcount reductions in its North American operations. Additionally, in 2009, the Company will record approximately $9 million in further restructuring charges for employee-related charges ($6 million), as well as lease exit and facilities-related costs ($3 million). Following the full implementation of the North American and European restructuring plans in the first quarter of 2010, management expects to achieve annual cost savings of approximately $17 million in salaries and related costs, resulting from a 15% reduction in global headcount, and approximately $4 million in savings for facilities-related costs. In addition to this restructuring plan, management is implementing a number of other cost savings initiatives impacting all areas of expense. As a result, management has targeted annual savings in 2009 of approximately $100 million versus actual 2008 results. This $100 million savings target includes any 2009 savings resulting from the North American and European restructuring plans discussed above.
“The global economic crisis which erupted in the autumn of 2008 had a major impact on our business in the fourth quarter,” said Bill Ruprecht, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sotheby’s. “For the first nine months of 2008, our aggregate auction sales were at record levels. But from October onwards, virtually every auction around the world experienced declines. As a result, we immediately took steps to strengthen our business. We began a worldwide restructuring, initiated global cost cutting measures and dramatically curtailed the use of guarantees. To date in 2009, auction commission margin is 17.3%, up 27% from the 13.6% in the first quarter of 2008.
“We continue to make strategic investments in our business,” continued Mr. Ruprecht. “Earlier this month, we successfully completed the repurchase of our flagship facility in New York City. We acquired the building for $370 million, funding a significant portion of the purchase price by assuming the seller’s mortgage. Replacing our lease obligation which had a 10.4% interest rate with a mortgage obligation of 5.6% allows us to save approximately $4 million in cash interest expense in 2009. This is the premier auction facility in the world and a strategic asset and we are delighted to own it once again. And we remain committed to our focus on our top clients and on the high end of the business. Sotheby’s sold the top lot of the year, Francis Bacon’s Triptych, 1976, ($86.3 million), the top lot of the autumn auction season, Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition ($60.0 million) and the top Contemporary lot of the autumn season, Yves Klein’s Archisponge ($21.4 million) while continuing to reduce lot volume in 2008.
“As we begin 2009 our financial condition remains healthy. We are well-positioned to operate in this very challenging economic environment. And, very importantly, as we saw in our recent London sales, demand remains positive for great works which are well estimated and fresh to the market. In a turbulent world, art continues to represent both value and relevance.”