Sotheby’s Fights Back Against Activist Investor Daniel Loeb

Sotheby's board as presented in slide show response to Daniel Loeb lawsuit.

More shots have been fired as the battle heats up between Sotheby’s and Daniel Loeb, the activist investor who has been rebuffed in his attempts to assert his influence on the company’s board of directors.

Following a Delaware judge’s decision to hear the suit brought against the auction house by Loeb, Sotheby’s has gone on the offensive. A 53-page slide presentation refuting the merit of Loeb’s case was submitted to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission

Through his hedge fund Third Point, Loeb has acquired 9.6 percent of the auction house’s stock, but his attempts to affect change have been met with resistance. Earlier reports from artnet News covered the further deterioration of the relationship between the two parties. Last month, Sotheby’s rejected Loeb’s board nominees. In response, the investor sued the auction house over a “poison pill” provision that prevents Third Point from increasing its shareholdings to more than ten percent.

In the slide show, Sotheby’s attacks Loeb’s track record from his past board experience, citing statistics that indicate those companies under-performed on the market during his generally short tenures. The auction house also questioned Loeb’s sudden exit from Yahoo after 14-month board stint, quoting various articles which described the ensuing corporate buyback arrangement as “greenmail,” in which a company buys back stock at a premium to prevent a threatened takeover.

Sotheby’s goes on to defend its company model, leadership team and strategy, calling itself a “market leader with outstanding results and superior shareholder returns.” One particularly vitriolic slide reads in all caps, “Third Point has made no case that change is warranted; Mr. Loeb’s slate adds no incremental relevant expertise to your board.” 

In October, as reported by the Financial Times, Loeb described Sotheby’s as being “like an old master painting in desperate need of restoration,” and called for the resignation of chief executive William Ruprecht.

The auction house claims that Loeb derailed any attempts at reconciliation, stating that “through his interactions with Sotheby’s Board, Mr. Loeb has shown that he would be a disruptive director,” who, based on his past board performance, would act only in his own interests, not those of all shareholders.

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