There's no mistaking that the London Impressionist and Modern sales were way down from previous years even if they ended up being about the same level as the comparable sales in June 2016. The drop in combined sales value from last year to this was 36% across Christie's and Sotheby's day and Evening sales. The weakness in the sales this year was evident in some of the internal dynamics. First among those was a significant drop in the hammer ratio which is the total hammer price divided by the aggregate low estimate of all the auctioned (not withdrawn) works. A strong hammer ratio is 1.2. The Impressionist and Modern category tends to have a lower hammer ratio reflecting the picky market and the lower sell-through rates. Last year, these sales had a .93 hammer ratio which is fairly weak and a cause for concern even in this category. This year's sales had a .73 hammer ratio. That means the bidding was softer than last year's relatively soft market. Overall sales volume can be affected by a number of causes out of the market's control. Estate material is particularly driven by factors that lie outside of the market at times. The combination of a substantial drop in market volume and a drop in hammer ratio suggests the strong Imp-Mod category of the last year or two may be coming to an end. To be fair, there has been a lot of estates on the market. Buyers have had plenty of opportunities and much money has been spent. These weak sales numbers may have as much to do with the end of the cycle as they do with overall market interest.
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