Because of the seasonal nature of the art auction market, first and third quarter results have historically reflected a lower volume of auction activity when compared to the second and fourth quarters and, typically, a net loss due to the fixed nature of many of Sotheby's operating expenses. As a result, first quarter results are typically not indicative of expected full year results. Management believes that investors should focus on results for six and twelve month periods, which better reflect the auction market business cycle.
Net loss for the three months ended March 31, 2013 was ($22.3) million, or ($0.33) per diluted share, as compared to ($10.7) million, or ($0.16) per diluted share in the prior period. This decrease is largely due to the aforementioned decline in auction commission margin and to a lesser extent, an 8% increase in operating expenses, which in large measure is attributable to planned investments in support of Sotheby's strategic initiatives, including the development of Sotheby's presence in growth markets.
"The first quarter showed a solid increase in auction sales compared to the prior year, but the results illustrate how competitive the market is for the highest value consignments. That competition resulted in lower commission margins, which is reflected on the bottom line. It's not where we prefer to be, but these results need to be seen in the context of thinking about the full year 2013. The increase in buyer's premium will help improve revenue margins as the year continues," said Chairman, President and CEO Bill Ruprecht.
"The results also show that we continue to invest in the future, moving ahead with initiatives that expand our global relevance and reach: redefining and personalizing the client experience at Sotheby's, delivering web-based tools across the globe so our clients can engage with us anywhere, at any time on any device, presenting a host of truly exciting private sale shows in newly-designed galleries in New York, London and Hong Kong and, of course, expanding our presence in China and elsewhere," he continued.