French billionaire Drahi acquires Sotheby's auction house for $3.7 billion

Lawrence Kim
June 18, 2019

Sotheby's auction house, one of the world's largest brokers of fine art and jewelry, is returning to private ownership after 31 years in a $3.7bn takeover agreed with the French-Israeli billionaire behind telecoms giant Altice.

In many ways, being public put Sotheby's at a competitive disadvantage to its main US rival Christie's, which was already private, art experts said.

"Now the company can become more flexible and nimble as a privately-held enterprise and it will be interesting to see the changes that will be made", said Abigail Asher, a partner at global art consultants Guggenheim, Asher. The deal puts Sotheby's, which was founded in 1744, on a path to becoming a private company again.

The acquisition will allow avid art collector Drahi to join rival French billionaire Francois Pinault at the top of the art world and NY society, with Pinault's holding company Artemis owning a majority stake in Sotheby's rival Christie's.

In 2012, it sold Edvard Munch's The Scream.

That is a 61 per cent premium to the company's Friday closing stock price.

Drahi, head of the Altice empire which owns Virgin Mobile and several French media houses including BFM news channel and Liberation newspaper, is paying $57 US per share to acquire Sotheby's through his company BidFair USA, the art house said.

FILE PHOTO: A woman stands in front of Andy Warhol's "Superman" at a pre-auction viewing at Sotheby's in Los Angeles, California March 25, 2015. The past few quarters have been unpleasant ones for investors, with the stock down more than 40% over the year prior to the deal announcement due to weak earnings and concern that high-end consumers are going to slow their spending as the economy and stock markets cool. Shares in Altice USA fell around 2% on Monday.

"I am honoured that the board of Sotheby's has made a decision to recommend my offer", said Drahi, a 55-year-old French-Israeli businessman who lives in Switzerland.

The Israeli-French media tycoon is the founder, board president, and controlling shareholder of Altice Europe. If the deal is approved by shareholders and regulators, Sotheby's would become a privately held company for the first time in more than three decades.

Loeb, a prominent art collector, on Monday praised the sale.

The boutique advisory firm LionTree is serving as financial advisor to Sotheby's on the deal, while BNP Paribas and Morgan Stanley are acting as financial advisors to BidFair USA.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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