A visitor studies Andy Warhol’s 'Dollar Signs' in Sotheby’s London showroom.
Photo by Mary Turner—Getty Images
By Jeff Bukhari
February 27, 2017

Investors are bidding up Sotheby’s.

Shares of auction house soared more than 14% in midday trading Monday after the company released quarterly earnings that beat analysts’ predictions. The company’s stock price reached $45.99, its highest level in nearly two years.

Sotheby’s (bid) reported $308.7 million in revenue for the quarter and a net income of $65.5 million, making for an adjusted earnings figure of $1.35 per share. By comparison, last year the company lost $11.2 million due in part to lagging sales. The fourth quarter is usually Sotheby’s most profitable since much of the industry is seasonal, so the company appears to have corrected its course.

But despite the good numbers, there are indications that the market for high-end art and other items is slipping. Adjusted net income for the full year was $99.6 million, which is down from 2015’s $143.1 million figure. Auction sales for 2016 fell by 29%, though the effects of the drop were dampened because profit margins were up 2.8%.

To counter this industry trend, Sotheby’s has been diversifying itself. The company has recently bought the art authentication company Orion Analytical, as well as the art advisory firm Art Agency, Partners. Sotheby’s has also increased the use of guarantees, which promise sellers a set amount of money to put their items up for sale regardless of how much the items end up selling for or whether they even sell at all. The idea behind guarantees is to give sellers who have a special or noteworthy set of items incentive to list them for auction. Though they are risky (unsold or underbid items can leave the company on the hook for millions of dollars each) large guarantees can add to the buzz when something novel hits the auction block. As it is now, Sotheby’s has outstanding guarantees of $148 million on various items that have yet to be put up for auction.

Sotheby’s has recently enjoyed success in such aforementioned high profile auctions, including the sale of more than 350 pieces of David Bowie’s art collection in November, which brought in $41.1 million, more than double what was originally expected.

Sotheby’s has been a strong performer in the stock market recently, gaining more than 138% in value after hitting a low of $19.13 in mid-February last year.

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