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Sotheby’s Sells Itself to One Rich Collector

Sotheby's (NYSE: BID) has been a publicly traded business for more than 30 years, but Patrick Drahi, who founded the France-based telecom and mass media giant Altice, made a bid for the British auction house with a premium that its shareholders will not be able to turn down.

In this segment of the Market Foolery podcast, host Chris Hill and Motley Fool Director of Small Cap Research Bill Mann break down the deal and consider why Sotheby's may be better off after it exits the public markets.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on June 18, 2019.

Chris Hill: Sotheby's run as a public company after 31 years is coming to an end. The auction house is being bought by one person. [laughs]

Bill Mann: By a guy.

Hill: By one guy. It's not being bought by a private equity firm or by a larger auction house, it's being bought by a man named Patrick Drahi, who made his billions of dollars in telecommunications. He is clearly a fan of art or auctions or both, because he is buying Sotheby's for $2.7 billion. That is a hell of a premium.

Mann: Fifty-six percent above the closing price on Friday.

Hill: That is a massive premium. He must really want this thing.

Mann: I tell you what, if Sotheby's had actually sold itself through auction, in this process -- I don't know why they didn't. This would have been their all-time biggest win. They had someone who wants the company and offered an enormous premium. I would say there is almost a certitude that Sotheby's is going to go private, because investors will absolutely accept this.

Hill: By the way, we have to say goodbye to one of the great ticker symbols as a result of this, which is BID. Fantastic ticker symbol. This was a company that was on The Motley Fool's collective radar for a number of years. Is it just too niche a business?

Mann: I don't think that's it. Actually, I was the first one to recommend Sotheby's, this was in Hidden Gems back in 2005, to members. Honestly, one of the reasons that I recommended it is, I looked at its position, having basically a duopoly between it and Christie's in the art world, and understanding that it was a fairly lumpy business, but any business where you are getting paid to sell other people's stuff ought to be a good business.

But I'm actually happy to see Sotheby's taken out. It's been kind of a disappointment from an investing perspective. They have not been very good about controlling their own costs, which is something that they probably don't have to answer to as a private company. It's just not as great of a business as it seems like it ought to be.

Bill Mann has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Chris Hill has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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