It’s just a whisper at the moment – delivered with conspiratorial hush – but it may well be the case that Francois Pinault is considering the sale of his Christie’s auction house.
The speculation is based on one obvious fact: at circa €4.7bn, Artemis, Mr Pinault’s holding company, is carrying too much debt.
Consider the state of the French retail tycoon’s assets. Artemis has 40 per cent of luxury goods group PPR, whose shares have fallen around two-thirds this year, leaving the holding worth around €1.8bn. Then there’s five per cent of construction group’s Vinci, down 44 per cent and now worth about €650, and also two per cent of Bouygues – off 50 per cent to about €200m. There are other private assets in the Artemis stable – not least Chateau Latour, worth around €200m, and a very good art collection put at €100m.
But do the maths. If Christie’s is worth, say, €500m, that’s €4.7bn of debt backed by less than €3.5bn of assets.
Of course, Mr Pinault might enjoy all sorts of cov-lite arrangements on his debt. Then again he might not. Outsiders don’t know because Artemis is a private company.
Those who claim inside knowledge reckon one or two private equity houses have shown interest in Christie’s. The art bubble might well have burst (belatedly), but Christie’s itself remains an intrinsically valuable name.
Watch this space.
Trouble in the art market – FT Alphaville
Financial crunch weakens bidding at Christie’s auction – FT