Talk started late last week that Bonhams was now fully in play. Georgina Adam picked up the buzz and put the information in her Financial Times column saying the bidders were private equity firms, that is, financial buyers.
What Adam doesn’t say is where Bonhams would be most valuable in the strategic battle to gain market share in the growing global auction space. Now or in few years, financial buyers will want to go public or sell to a strategic buyer. But who would be a logical strategic buyer?
One guess is that Phillips, owned by deep-pocketed Russian luxury goods retailers, would benefit the most from gaining a broader business. Phillips has a new CEO in Edward Dolman and adding Bonhams would make sense with his arrival.
Of course, this is all chatter. The real question? How much will Bonhams fetch? $300m? £300m? One important wrinkle, does the auction house include the real estate owned by the firm, including the new London headquarters?
Could Bonhams change hands? A number of private equity firms, led by investment bank Greenhill, have submitted first-round bids for the 200-year-old auction house, which reported profits of £25m last year with turnover at an all-time high of £127m. It also unveiled a £30m new saleroom at the top of Bond Street. The bid would value the company at “several hundred million pounds”, according to reports.