(Bloomberg) -- Sotheby’s, the auction house owned by French-Israeli telecoms billionaire Patrick Drahi, has quietly stepped away from plans for an initial public offering, a prospect it once considered seriously enough to pick bankers for a US listing.
“We are really enjoying operating as a fully private company,” CEO Charles Stewart said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “That suits us well and keeps us focused on our mission.”
With almost 300 years in business, New York-based Sotheby’s has been taken on and off the public market through successive owners. Drahi took the company private when he bought it for $3.7 billion in 2019, ending Sotheby’s three-decade run as a public company. Bloomberg reported last year that Sotheby’s was once again exploring an IPO, selecting Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley as bankers.
“We don’t need capital to do what we’re currently doing in our core business,” Stewart said. “We’ve been investing in real estate, we’ve made some acquisitions, we’re expanding sales channels, categories and geographies. All of that, we can do within our core business.”
Keeping Sotheby’s private would make the business something of an outlier within Drahi’s empire. The tycoon’s telecommunications and media giant, Altice, is preparing to receive initial bids for parts of its business as the billionaire grapples with a debt load amassed during 30 years of dealmaking. “Everything is open,” Drahi told about 200 debt investors in September, according to an unofficial transcript of the meeting seen by Bloomberg.
“Patrick is incredibly committed to Sotheby’s,” Stewart said. Regarding a sale of the company: “I would find it very, very unlikely. It’s not in his plan or interest at all.”
Sotheby’s projects sales of $8 billion for 2023, according to Stewart, up from $7.3 billion in 2021, before the IPO exploration.
A wave of high-profile auctions hit the market, including shirts worn by football star Lionel Messi at the 2022 World Cup and the Lamborghini from the movie The Wolf of Wall Street, helping garner demand from a new group of clients outside the traditional art world.
Sotheby’s plans to open a gallery in Hong Kong next year despite “somewhat softer” demand in Asia. The 24,000-square-foot space will sit in the heart of the city-state’s luxury district in Central, according to a statement. Competing auction houses have been expanding their footprints in the region in recent years. Christie’s is opening a new Asia-Pacific headquarters in 2024.
“We had very successful sales in Hong Kong in October and have big plans for what we can do next year,” Stewart said. “Between New York, Paris and Hong Kong, which are our three anchor projects for next year, we will see hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, possibly in the millions.”
--With assistance from Manus Cranny.
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