Jun 17, 2019

Sotheby's gets a new owner

Photo: Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Sotheby's is being sold. French-Israeli cable mogul Patrick Drahi is paying $3.7 billion for the auction house, which is 60% more than it was worth on the public markets at the close of trade on Friday.

Why it matters: Under private ownership, Sotheby's might be better able to compete with archrival Christie's. Drahi won't stop at $3.7 billion in his attempt to equalize the two houses.

Driving the news: Drahi is the archetypal cosmopolitan billionaire. A Jew born in Casablanca who is married to a Greek Orthodox woman of Syrian descent, he lives in Switzerland and has French, Portuguese, and Israeli citizenship. He might well become an American too, now that he owns Sotheby's.

Background: To follow the history of Sotheby's is in many ways to watch the evolution of capitalism itself.

  • Founded in London in 1744, the auction house dominated fine-art trading for centuries.
  • In 1964, seeing where global wealth was centered, Sotheby's bought Parke-Bernet of New York and started expanding aggressively.
  • When it ran into financial trouble in 1983, it was bought for $125 million by Alfred Taubman, who ended up being jailed for price-fixing with rival Christie's.
  • In 1998, Christie's was bought by French tycoon François Pinault for $1.2 billion, setting off a 20-year period during which Christie's, with no particular need to make a profit, out-competed Sotheby's.
  • The value of Christie's to Pinault is not financial. Rather, the auction house gives him unparalleled insight into the behavior of the world's wealthiest individuals, and also effectively acts as his primary art acquisition vehicle.

The bottom line: Buying Sotheby's gives Drahi much more clout among the global ultra-wealthy than he would get from buying $3.7 billion of art. It will also increase his name recognition in the U.S., where he has long harbored ambitions to build a major cable empire.

Go deeper

Pope Francis delivers Palm Sunday sermon to empty St. Peter’s Basilica

Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis called on listeners in his Palm Sunday sermon — on the first day of Holy Week — to "reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need" during the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Francis delivered his message inside an empty St. Peter’s Basilica, broadcasting it over the internet to churches around the world.

Go deeperArrow3 mins ago - World

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7:30 a.m. ET: 1,213,927 — Total deaths: 65,652 — Total recoveries: 252,391Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7:30 a.m. ET: 312,245 — Total deaths: 8,503 — Total recoveries: 15,021Map.
  3. Public health latest: CDC launches national trackers and recommends face coverings in public. Federal government will cover costs of COVID-19 treatment for uninsured. The virus is hitting poor, minority communities harder and upending childbirth.
  4. 2020 latest: "We have no contingency plan," Trump said on the 2020 Republican National Convention. "We're having the convention at the end of August."
  5. Business updates: Restaurants step up for health care workers. Employees are pressuring companies to provide protections during coronavirus.
  6. Oil latest: Monday meeting among oil-producing countries to discuss supply curbs is reportedly being delayed amid tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
  7. Education update: Many college-age students won't get coronavirus relief checks.
  8. 1 🏀 thing: The WNBA postpones start of training camps and season.
  9. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Virus vices take a toll on Americans

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans are doubling down on their worst habits to cope with the mental and emotional stress of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: The pandemic will have a long-lasting impact on health of the American people, in part due to the habits they will pick up during the weeks and months they are forced to stay home.