Sotheby's sold to French-Israeli billionaire for $3.7bn

Carla Harmon
June 19, 2019

Sotheby's shares spiked almost 60% Monday after the auction house said BidFair USA, owned by the Altice founder Patrick Drahi, was acquiring it for $3.7 billion.

The acquisition allows Drahi to join French billionaire Francois Pinault - who owns Sotheby's main rival Christie's - at the top of the art world and NY society.

If approved, the transition will mark the 275-year-old auction house's return to private ownership after thirty-one years on the New York Stock Exchange.

The offer represented a premium of 61 per cent to Sotheby's closing price on Friday.

"Sotheby's is one of the most elegant and aspirational brands in the world", Drahi said.

Smith, who was installed as CEO following a proxy battle with activist shareholders, said in a statement, "This acquisition will provide Sotheby's with the opportunity to accelerate the successful program of growth initiatives of the past several years in a more flexible private environment".

Commenting on the agreement, Drahi said: "I am honored that the board of Sotheby's has chose to recommend my offer".

While rival Christie's occupies more of the top slots in tables of the largest art sales, Sotheby's has brought the hammer down on high-profile artworks and books, including a 710-year-old copy of the Magna Carta for $21.3m and Edvard Munch's The Scream, which went for $120m in 2012. "As a longtime client and lifetime admirer of the company, I am acquiring Sotheby's together with my family", he said.

The purchase by Mr Drahi's BidFair USA company is expected to close in 2019's fourth quarter after shareholder approval.

Last month Sotheby's sold a Monet painting from the Impressionist's celebrated "Meules" (Haystacks) series for $110.7 million, an auction record for the artist.

Drahi said he doesn't anticipate any change to the company's strategy or management.

But unlike billionaire Francois Pinault, or fellow telecoms and media mogul Xavier Niel of Iliad, Drahi is not an instantly recognizable figure in France.

Drahi joins an exclusive club of French billionaires active in the global art market, which also includes LVMH's boss Bernard Arnault through his Louis Vuitton foundation.

He moved to France aged 15 and started his career at Philips.

After buying up several troubled cable and mobile operators he entered the big league in 2014 when he fought off rival Bouygues to buy France's second-biggest mobile phone operator SFR. Before the market opened, shares were priced at about $35.

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