For the second time in six weeks, Sotheby’s stock (BID) has traded up to $32 (red line in the chart above) and quickly pulled back. Most equities analysts have a $28 price on the stock (green line in chart above) with none rating it a buy. But since the bulk of Sotheby’s stock is controlled by a few hedge funds and mutual funds, those analysts calls are unlikely to have much effect.
The company’s own buyback program, which may not yet be complete, is more likely to determine the stock price along with some anticipation of August 8th’s earnings call which CEO Tad Smith raised expectations on last May when he declared the company’s earnings problems and market retrenchment would be confined to the quarters that had already passed breaking with his previous stance that the art market would need a few more quarters to recover volumes.
Smith declared himself “cautiously optimistic” about the May and June sales. And though the results were well managed by the specialist team, the important question is whether the firm was able to generate commissions. The last time BID traded above $32 was in the moments before Sotheby’s CFO announced there would be no auction commissions earned on the massive Taubman estate sale.
Perhaps more important to the question of whether Sotheby’s stock can break out above $32 is what selling pressure has been driving the price down after the June 8th peak and yesterday’s brief run at $32. Marcato, the original activist firm that acquired its stake in Sotheby’s in the Summer of 2013 has been trimming its holdings.
Marcato originally hoped to get $1.3bn in capital returned to shareholders through sales of the company’s real estate and a freeing up of the company’s capital used to finance art loans. Marcato’s price target for the company’s stock was $68. Marcato most likely acquired the stock for prices in the mid-30s.
Given that Sotheby’s stock has gone in the opposite direction from what Marcato had hoped three years ago, could the hedge fund—which was reported to have sold 315,000 shares in the first quarter when the stock was near its nadir—be hitting any $32 bid aggressively to reclaim some of its capital? Some of the other mutual funds have given up hope and trimmed their stakes too.