Sotheby’s, the auction house under pressure from activist investors to boost profit, doubled the amount it can borrow to make art loans in a bid to win clients and top consignments.
Sotheby’s secured a credit line of more than $1 billion to make such loans from a consortium including General Electric Capital Corp., according to a filing last week. The New York- based auction house previously could borrow as much as $550 million under that line.
More wealthy collectors and investors are taking advantage of rising art prices by borrowing against their trophy works. Banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc., hedge funds and specialist lenders offer such services but Sotheby’s has an edge because it can also auction the works for clients.
“Sotheby’s financial services is another area where we can expand and grow profitably through improved focus and attention,” Tad Smith, Sotheby’s chief executive officer, said in a conference call with investors on May 11.
Smith, a media and entertainment executive who replaced William Ruprecht as CEO this year amid pressure from billionaire activist investor Daniel Loeb, is looking for ways to increase earnings amid record prices for art.
Revenue for the finance segment, a small but fast-growing business for Sotheby’s, increased 79 percent to $15.9 million in the first quarter from the same period a year earlier. Profit surged 41 percent to $4.3 million.
Sotheby’s revenue from its agency segment, which includes auction commissions, rose 4 percent to $127.9 million. In May, Sotheby’s sold $890 million of art during two weeks of big auctions in New York. Christie’s tally from the equivalent sales was $1.7 billion.
A syndicate of lenders led by GE Capital is backing the credit. Sotheby’s credit line to finance art-backed loans to clients rose from $550 million in August, the company said in a June 15 filing, an increase of 88 percent. Sotheby’s paid about $2.7 million in fees to amend the agreement.
The auction house has been a GE Capital customer since 2009, when its credit facility was $200 million, according to filings.