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Hedge fund manager Loeb says Sotheby's attacks on him are 'false'

Daniel S. Loeb, founder of Third Point LLC, participates in a panel discussion during the Skybridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference in Las Ve
Daniel S. Loeb, founder of Third Point LLC, participates in a panel discussion during the Skybridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference in Las Ve

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

BOSTON (Reuters) - Activist investor Daniel Loeb, who is fighting to win control of three board seats at Sotheby's , on Monday raised the temperature by saying the current board has failed and that its attacks on him are "false" and "misleading."

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Loeb responded to Sotheby's presentation of last week when the 270-year-old auction house questioned Loeb's ability to add value to its business.

Loeb in his filing also took aim at the Sotheby's board for its claims on the company's performance.

"Management's claim that 2013 was a 'record' year is misleading and demonstrates the risk of having a Board asleep at the switch," Loeb wrote. He noted that earnings per share fell by 42 percent between 2007 and 2013, and that revenues fell and expenses climbed over the same time period.

Sotheby's declined to comment.

Loeb's $14.5 billion hedge fund Third Point currently owns a 9.6 percent stake in Sotheby's and started a proxy contest earlier this year, putting Loeb and two other people forward as directors. Since the middle of last year, Loeb and Third Point have been pushing the company to overhaul its financial strategy, return capital to investors and improve its position in the modern art market.

To some observers, the battle is being drawn along the same lines as the 2012 battle for Yahoo , in which Loeb played an instrumental role in pushing out Scott Thompson as chief executive and hand-picking Marissa Meyer to run the company. The two sides negotiated a settlement and Loeb joined Yahoo's board.

Sotheby's share price has fallen 21.33 percent since October 2013. The company in October adopted a poison pill to prevent activist investors from owning more than 10 percent, two days after Loeb raised his stake in the company. Third Point has filed suit in Delaware Chancery Court to try and force Sotheby's to withdraw the poison pill. The next hearing is scheduled for April 26.

Loeb said Sotheby's was disingenuous in criticizing his exit from Yahoo last year. Loeb said Yahoo's share price climbed more than 85 percent during the time he and two other directors close to Third Point served on the board.

He also said that Sotheby's made "false statements" about his experience in the art world. He said that as a prominent collector he has loaned some of his personal collection to museums like the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Sotheby's annual meeting will take place on May 6, and before then Loeb and Sotheby's will both try to persuade investors to their side. Proxy voting advisory firm ISS is expected to make a recommendation on which slate to pick in the coming days.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Leslie Adler)