Unstructured Finance

Sotheby’s and a tale of two hedge fund managers

Hedge fund manager Steve Cohen’s reported plan to sell a number of valuable artworks may not only deliver a nice chunk of change for the Wall Street mogul, it may also provide gains for another rival manager.

Cohen is selling several high-profile artworks from his art collection, according to a story Monday in the New York Times, and he has given the task of selling the works to Sotheby’s – the 269-year-old auction house currently in the firing line of activist Daniel Loeb.

Loeb’s hedge fund owns 9.3 percent of Sotheby’s, making his New York-based Third Point the majority shareholder. Loeb wants the company to revamp and overhaul many of its operations and has demanded the resignation of the current CEO William Ruprecht. Sotheby’s has called Loeb’s actions “incendiary and baseless.”

Among other things one of Loeb’s major criticisms of the company is its approach to the contemporary and modern art market. In his early October missive to Ruprecht he wrote:

In particular, we are troubled by the Company’s chronically weak operating margins and deteriorating competitive position relative to Christie’s, as evidenced by each of the Contemporary and Modern art evening sales over the last several years.

Christie’s sets one wine record, blows another

Christie’s auction in Geneva on Tuesday claims to have set a world record price for a bottle of red Burgundy. A  U.S. buyer bought the 750 ml bottle of 1945 Romainee-Conti for $123,889.  But the house failed to sell its showcase lot of the auction — 315 bottles representing every vintage from ’45 to ’07 produced by each of the first five growths of Bordeaux.

Meanwhile in New York on Saturday, the star lot – a complete vertical of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild spanning ’45-’07 sold to an Asian collector for $150,000.

 

Arbitrage in Bordeaux

New York’s branch of Christie’s is auctioning a collection of 64 bottles of Mouton-Rothschild on Saturday that spans the years 1945-2007.  It’s Geneva branch is auctioning a collection of 315 bottles spanning the same 62 vintages, but from all five first growths including Mouton-Rothschild on Tuesday.  (See story “Mystery collector to sell rare wines” [ID: nN10231397])

Saturday’s lot is selling for between $100,000 and $150,000, while Tuesday’s is estimated to sell for $696,000 to $929,000. And the price difference presents collectors with an arbitrage opportunity.

Assuming that the wines sell at the upper end of their estimates, buying Saturday’s lot for $150,000 would represent a $35,000 savings.  Granted, Tuesday’s lot has one more bottle of Mouton-Rothschild – the chateau produced two labels in 1978 and 1993 – and the Geneva lot has all four, while Saturday’s lot only has three.

The legal way to buy stolen goods

GERMANY/Don’t let the headline fool you.  It is still illegal to buy stolen goods … unless you’re buying them from the police.

In the same way that eBay is the world’s virtual garage sale, a website called Property Room is trying to become the world’s virtual police auction.

Founded in 1999, the website has partnered with 1,600 law enforcement agencies around the country to sell unwanted or unclaimed recovered property.

Another one bites the dust

The Essent electricity plant is seen in MoerdijkAnother auction — appropriately enough, this time of a waste management firm — is consigned to the dustbin of history. As Catherine Hornby and I wrote earlier:

“Dutch utility Essent scrapped the sale of its waste-management unit, blaming low prices and other problems with bids for the failure of an auction that had once aimed to raise a billion euros or more.

“The sale of Essent Milieu, which bankers began working on in late 2008, had originally promised to be one of Europe’s first big leveraged buyouts (LBOs) since the credit crunch, with a staple financing helping attract private equity firms such as BC Partners and PAI.

Another deal in healthcare: what’s the magic pill?

pillsAs dealmakers everywhere struggle to get deals done, the healthcare industry seals yet another one.

Express Scripts has agreed to buy health insurer WellPoint’s prescription business for $4.68 billion in a significant expansion for the U.S. pharmacy beenfit manager. The deal will be a concoction of cash and up to $1.4 billion in common stock, and will generate more than $1 billion of incremental EBITDA.

This comes on the heels of Pfizer’s $68 billion acquisition of Wyeth, Merck’s $41.1 billion takeover of Schering Plough and Roche Holding’s $46.8 billion buyout of Genentech. Granted, this isn’t a pharma deal, but it still falls under the umbrella of the healthcare sector.

Big car. Smaller and smaller offers.

HummerThe number of bidders for GM’s Hummer brand has narrowed down to three, with current offers ranging from $100 million to $200 million in cash, in addition to other commitments, sources told Reuters.

That would be a further comedown from what was already a comedown — investment bankers initially estimated that the iconic gas guzzler could fetch between $500 million and $750 million, considering it a distressed asset.

Last month, GM turned back a Kentucky industrialist with a lowball bid, who had also put together plans for new powertrain options for Hummer, including a hybrid version of the H3 that would double its fuel economy from the current 14-to-18 miles per gallon, a source said.

Chairgate: the Economist recants

The Economist has published a correction to its earlier report that Henry Kravis, KKR’s archetypal “Barbarian at the Gate”, may have stumped up 22 million euros for a chair once owned by Yves Saint Laurent:

“Our report suggested that Henry and Marie-Josée Kravis may have been the purchasers of an early 20th-century chair designed by Eileen Gray. Mr Kravis assures us that neither he nor anyone in his family bought the chair in question. Our apologies to all concerned,” the free-trade-loving weekly says.

Our post yesterday on the Economist’s original story prompted some acerbic follow-ups elsewhere in the blogosphere and a firm denial from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts HQ.

UPDATED: KKR denies an auction victory

(This updates an earlier post with KKR’s denial).

Maybe the days of private equity paying eye-watering prices at auction really are over.

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts has firmly denied a report in the Economist’s books and arts section saying that, despite the deep economic funk, buyout doyen Henry Kravis was behind the “startling” $28 million purchase of a vintage chair at the recent Yves Saint Laurent sale in Paris:

“Who, in the current climate, were the buyers?” the Economist asked. ”Few prices were more startling than the €22m commanded by an early 20th-century chair designed by Eileen Gray. Cheska Vallois, an Art Deco dealer, won the work in the room; it is thought that she did so on behalf of Henry and Marie-José Kravis, who had already acquired examples of Gray’s work from Ms. Vallois at the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris.”

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