Sotheby’s Announces Significant Losses in Its Historic Taubman Sale

That $500 million guarantee certainly did not pay off.

Photo: Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s announced an estimated $12 million loss in the fourth quarter of 2015 as a result of the A. Alfred Taubman sale, according to a January 22 conference call with investors. The sale famously included a $500 million guarantee payed to Taubman’s heirs in order to secure the impressive art collection of the auction house’s former chairman.

It was the largest guarantee in auction house history, and sparked speculation from all corners of the art world as to whether or not it would pay off in the end.

“As a result of the guarantee shortfall, no net auction commission revenue will be recognized for the Taubman collection in the fourth quarter of 2015 or in 2016,” president and CEO Tad Smith said during the call. “With no revenue from the Taubman Collection in the fourth quarter, auction commission margin is down versus the prior year fourth quarter. Excluding the Taubman collection sales, auction commission margin for the fourth quarter and full year did improve when compared to the prior year.”

Smith maintains that the Taubman situation is not likely to arise again, and that the record-breaking guarantee is not a sign of things to come. “There was only one A. Alfred Taubman,” he noted.

Indeed, losing the consignment on the collection of their former chairman to Christie’s would have been a massive source of embarrassment for the auction house.

“You can see the competitive challenges in losing something that close to you, but they were kind of taken to the cleaners,” financial analyst George Sutton told the New York Times. “Hopefully, there’s never a scenario like that again.”

Sotheby’s adjusted net income for the year is estimate to be between $138 and $142 million, compared to $142 million in 2014.

The auction house announced its forth quarter earnings early this year as part of a controversial deal to purchase Amy Cappellazzo’s private consulting firm Art Agency Partners for $50 million.

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