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Updated at 1:28 PM ET
Sotheby's has accepted a merger offer from entrepreneur Patrick Drahi, who will buy the auction house for $ 3.7 billion. This deal puts Sotheby's, founded in 1744, on the path to becoming a private company again.
"After more than 30 years as a publicly traded company, the time has come for Sotheby's to return to private ownership to continue on the path of growth and success," said Domenico De Sole, President Sotheby's board of directors, in a sales release.
De Sole said the board "enthusiastically supported" Drahi's offer, which would pay shareholders $ 57 in cash per share, well above Friday's closing price, set at $ 35.38.
This payment corresponds to a premium of 56.3% over the average of the last 30 days of the stock, said Sotheby's.
Drahi is a Franco-Israeli billionaire who founded the Dutch telecommunications giant Altice, which has made multi-billion dollar acquisitions in recent years. In particular, it paid $ 17.7 billion to acquire Cablevision in 2015.
The Sotheby's purchase is expected to be finalized in the fourth quarter of this year, the company said. Before this can happen, the transaction must be approved by shareholders and regulators.
Drahi, 55, said "honored" that the board of directors chose to accept his offer.
"Sotheby's is one of the most elegant and ambitious brands in the world," said Drahi. "As a longtime customer and long time admirer of the company, I buy Sotheby's with my family."
Tad Smith, managing director of Sotheby's, said that this acquisition would allow the company to "accelerate the program of successful growth initiatives in recent years in a more flexible private environment."
Sotheby's currently manages auctions in outlets in 10 cities, from London to New York via Hong Kong and Paris. The auction house is also active online, thanks to its BidNow program which allows potential buyers to view bids and make offers via the Internet.
The sale of the auction house should not affect Sotheby's International Realty – it's the name of a separate company that is a subsidiary of the real estate company Realogy Holdings Corp. since 2004. Under this arrangement, Realogy awards a license on behalf of Sotheby's for its franchise program.