|Pressed by hedge funds, Sotheby's sets $450 million payout; Possible property sales|
Sotheby's employees stand with a newly-discovered painting by Cy Twombly during the Sotheby's Impressionist, Modern & Contemporary Art auctions press preview in London on January 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW COWIE.
NEW YORK, NY (AFP).- Venerable art auctioneer Sotheby's bowed to pressure from activist shareholders Wednesday, announcing a $300 million special dividend, a restructuring of operations and possible property sales.
Three months after its management and strategy came under assault by hedge fund Third Point's founder Dan Loeb and other activists, Sotheby's said it will also spend $150 million on a share buyback program beginning this year.
And it pledged to return excess capital to shareholders each year,"primarily through a special dividend."
"The message we are delivering is clear - we are returning meaningful capital to our shareholders now and in the future and establishing a framework that puts Sotheby's in the strongest position to compete and win in this marketplace while delivering value to our clients," said chief executive Bill Ruprecht.
In October Loeb, holding 9.3 percent of the 270 year old auction house, singled out Ruprecht for strong criticism, saying the company was falling behind rival Christie's.
He also accused the cozy management of profligate spending.
"Sotheby's is like an old master painting in desperate need of restoration," Loeb said, calling for Ruprecht's removal.
Sotheby's responded with a poison pill move that would have hurt Loeb if he tried to gain further power over the company.
But the company on Wednesday appeared to meet some of the demands for better focus on stockholder returns from Loeb and others.
They also include a review of Sotheby's headquarters on the east side of Manhattan and its Bond Street, London property with an eye towards selling all or parts of the buildings.
The company will split its business into two separately operated divisions, one for its art auctions and private sales, and the other for financial services, which lends money against art as collateral.
The new structure will optimize funding and see clear goals for returns from each business.
Unde the new structure it estimates it will cut $22 million in professional fees and administrative costs. No job cuts are planned.
Sotheby's is also interested in upping investment on promising or new ventures, such as private sales, emerging markets and its digital platform.
Sotheby's shares rose 0.5 percent to $49.16 in early trade.
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