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French Tycoon to Buy Christie’s for $1.2 Billion

<i> From Associated Press</i>

French tycoon Francois Pinault agreed to buy Christie’s International in a deal that values the auction house at $1.2 billion, both sides said Monday.

Pinault, a top retailer and avid art collector, has been a regular customer of Christie’s and, by purchasing the auction house, hopes to capitalize on a recent trend of increasingly higher prices for top artworks.

London-based Christie’s is the world’s largest auction house, based on its sales of art, fine wine, automobiles and other valuable objects over the last two years, although traditional rival Sotheby’s has been more profitable.

British traders had suggested Pinault might seek control of the 200-year-old auction business ever since his investment company, Artemis Group, bought 29% of Christie’s earlier this month.

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Artemis has agreed to pay $6.41 per share for the company--40% more than its stock was worth-- before Pinault stepped into the market to buy Christie’s shares.

Pinault holds a 42% stake in French retail group Pinault-Printemps-Redoute. In addition to his collection of fine art, Pinault has stakes in Chateau Latour wines, one of the top brands in Bordeaux, and Vail Resorts in Colorado.

Pinault said he had no plans to replace Christie’s managers, but his precise strategy for Christie’s remained unclear. Executives at Artemis in Paris said Pinault would not comment on such specifics.

Christie’s American depositary receipts jumped $11.75 to close at $62.50 in over-the-counter trading.

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