Financial News

  • 24 March 2014, 13:50

Auction House Bonhams Eyes Sale Of Its Own

It has secured a record bid for a painting in Russia and struck the most valuable purchase of an Old Master at auction.

Now Bonhams, the British auctioneer, is considering a deal of a different kind.

Sky News has learnt that the company's shareholders are bringing in City advisers to assess whether Bonhams itself should be put up for sale on the back of record profits.

Sources said on Saturday that Greenhill, an investment bank, had recently been appointed to conduct a strategic review, which will involve examining a range of options for bringing new capital into the business.

Bonhams, which has become a well-known name in the global auctioneering sector, specialises in selling fine art, classic cars and antiques.

It is jointly-owned by two businessmen: Robert Brooks, a former motor racing driver who has chaired the British Racing Drivers' Club, and Evert Louwman, a Dutchman.

Mr Brooks has said in the past that he wants to take advantage of Bonhams' strong balance sheet by building the company into a credible rival to Christie's and Sotheby's, the most famous name in the auction world.

It is unclear whether either of the existing shareholders would countenance an outright sale of their stakes.

Greenhill is expected to recommend the recruitment of a new investor, which is likely to attract interest from major private equity firms and sovereign wealth funds.

A stock market flotation is also expected to be considered although Mr Brooks has previously said that such a move was unlikely.

It is unclear exactly how much Bonhams would be valued at although City sources indicated that it would be several hundred million pounds.

Headquartered on New Bond Street in London, the current Bonhams was formed from a merger with Brooks in 2000, and has established a presence in Dubai, Hong Kong and the US.

The company was founded in 1793, and now claims market leadership in a number of areas, including the sale of Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin and Maserati cars for world record prices.

Last year, Bonhams saw profits more than double to 25m as wealthy buyers looked for alternative investment opportunities in a continuing environment of low interest rates.

Key sales in 2013 included a 1954 Mercedes Formula One car driven by the legendary Argentine racer Juan Manuel Fangio, which fetched 19.6m, and the Madonna Laboris, which became the most expensive Russian painting sold at auction when it attracted a 7.9m bid.

"2013 was a year where we saw the Bonhams brand establish itself further on the global stage," Mr Brooks told a newspaper last week.

'We have put significant investment behind growing a brand that can compete effectively in the key auction markets of the world."

A Bonhams spokesman refused to comment.