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Sotheby's says strong art sales boosted 1Q revenue

NEW YORK (AP) -- Sotheby's, the auction house engaged in a dispute with its largest shareholder, says strong art sales helped boost its first-quarter revenue.

The company is trying to shake off criticism launched last year by activist investor Daniel Loeb and his hedge fund Third Point LLC that the auction house is a "an old master painting in desperate need of restoration." The fund is seeking to shake up Sotheby's board and recently filed a lawsuit against the company as part of the ongoing dispute.

Third Point is Sotheby's largest shareholder with a 9.6 percent stake, according to FactSet.

Sotheby's said Wednesday that its first-quarter auction sales increased by 40 percent to $730 million. It attributed this gain to a 34 percent increase in sales of impressionist and contemporary art over the prior year.

The company said it expects to narrow its first-quarter pre-tax loss to $6 million, compared to $32 million last year. That's better than the $13.7 million loss that analysts polled by FactSet were anticipating for the quarter.

Sotheby's Chairman, President and CEO Bill Ruprecht said the sales gain and improved financial performance demonstrate that the company's strategic plan is working and that it is well-positioned to build on its momentum.

A representative for Third Point could not be reached immediately for comment.

Sotheby's shares were down $1.15, or 2.8 percent, to $39.50 in after-hours trading following the release of the sales data.