French Media Tycoon Patrick Drahi Has Acquired Sotheby’s for $3.7 Billion, Taking the Publicly Traded Auction House Private

Sotheby's will no longer trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

Patrick Drahi, president of French telecom group Altice, is Sotheby's new owner. (Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)

One of the art world’s biggest businesses has a new owner. Sotheby’s, the 275-year-old auction house, has been acquired by BidFair USA, a company wholly owned by French-Israeli collector and entrepreneur Patrick Drahi—and he is planning to take the publicly traded company private. The deal is likely to have significant implications for the future of the auction industry, which is led by Sotheby’s and its privately held competitor Christie’s.

Under the terms of the agreement, which was approved by Sotheby’s board of directors, shareholders—including employee shareholders—will receive $57 in cash per share of common stock, significantly higher than where the shares are currently trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Over the past year, the stock had dropped over 40 percent, from $56 to a low of around $32. In early trading on the New York Stock Exchange today, the shares had already boomeranged to over $55 following news of the acquisition.

The deal was made for $3.7 billion, according to a statement from Sotheby’s. “The offer price represents a premium of 61 percent to Sotheby’s closing price on June 14, 2019, and a 56.3 percent premium to the company’s 30 trading-day volume weighted average share price,” according to the statement. Boutique investment bank LionTree Advisors served as a financial advisor to Sotheby’s in the deal.

Sotheby’s, the only major auction house to be publicly traded and the oldest company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, will now return to private ownership after 31 years as a public company. Sotheby’s main rival Christie’s is owned by luxury goods magnate Francois Pinault.

Despite the soaring value of the global art market over the past two decades, auction houses have struggled with high overhead costs and shrinking margins as collectors demand ever more favorable terms and houses enter into complex financial guarantees with outside parties to offset risk. Private ownership has enabled Christie’s to take arguably riskier moves and keep more of its financial information under wraps. Sotheby’s, meanwhile, has focused much of its energy on beefing up sales in the middle market and acquiring auxiliary art-related businesses such as the art advisory firm Art Agency, Partners, the scientific research firm Orion Analytical, and the image-recognition tech startup Thread Genius.

“Patrick Drahi is one of the most well-regarded entrepreneurs in the world, and on behalf of everyone at Sotheby’s, I want to welcome him to the family,” Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith said in a statement. “Known for his commitment to innovation and ingenuity, Patrick founded and leads some of the most successful telecommunications, media and digital companies in the world. He has a long-term view and shares our brand vision for great client service and employing innovation to enhance the value of the company for clients and employees. 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.”

According to Forbes, Drahi has a net worth of $9.3 billion. He is described as a telecom magnate who owns 60 percent of the stock of Altice NV, the publicly traded multinational telecom and media company he founded. Drahi built Altice with more than 20 acquisitions of lagging cable and mobile operators, according to Forbes. His most notable acquisitions include the 2015 purchase of a 70 percent stake in cable operator Suddenlink in a $9 billion deal and the purchase of Cablevision for $17.7 billion.

In a statement, Drahi said he was making the acquisition “for my family, through my personal holding, with a very long-term perspective. There is no capital link with Altice Europe or Altice USA.” He noted that he has “full confidence in Sotheby’s management” and does not “anticipate any change to the company’s strategy. Management and their exceptional teams and talent around the world will continue to operate with my full support.”

“With my family,” he added, “we are very enthusiastic to build together with its current management and their teams the future of Sotheby’s, a fascinating and multi-secular company with such a celebrated history of uniting people all over the world through culture and arts.”

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