Sotheby's strengthens in last quarter

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NEW YORK - Sotheby's, the big American-owned auction house, almost doubled its profits in the final quarter of last year, earning dollars 20.6m ( pounds 14m) at the end of an otherwise weak year, writes Larry Black.

For the year Sotheby's earned only dollars 19.3m, or 35 cents a share, having lost money during the first nine months, in part the result of a dollars 2.4m charge for restructuring. In 1992, it made a profit of dollars 4m, or seven cents a share. Revenue in 1993 rose to dollars 252m from dollars 225m, with the bulk of the gain being registered in the final quarter.

Auction sales were up 17 per cent over the previous year to dollars 1.3bn, with income before taxes of dollars 34.2m, compared with dollars 4m. Sales rose equally in North America and Europe, which account for roughly the same share of the house's auction business.

Sotheby's said its financial services division - which lends to buyers - earned dollars 2.8m, down sharply from dollars 5.2m the year before. The decrease was the result of a smaller loan portfolio, the company said. Trading in Sotheby's shares in London was all but suspended during the final hour of the session, due to a hold-up in the system transmitting information to brokers.

In New York, Sotheby's was trading down 1 4 at dollars 181 4 shortly before the end of the session, with more than 35,000 shares having changed hands.