Arnault plays safe by backing rival auctions

French entrepreneur Bernard Arnault is clearly a man who likes to hedge his bets.

A week after pan-European QXL.com, in which Arnault holds a minority stake, floated on the stock market valued at £263m, rival Aucland.com launches in the UK.

Arnault also holds a majority stake in Aucland, through his Internet investment company Europ@Web.

It is a sector where most of the participants admit there will be few winners by the time the inevitable shake-out of operators occurs, so what lies behind Arnault’s move?

Fabrice Grinda, founder and chief executive of Aucland, insists he is unconcerned by Arnault’s cross-holding in the two operators.

“He has made it clear that he considers us his ‘strategic’ auction operator, and that QXL was a financial rather than strategic decision,” he says.

Grinda says Aucland will compete head on with anyone in the “consumer-to-consumer” auction arena, but will be leaving the field clear to QXL and others to concentrate on the sale of “producer to consumer” sales of excess inventory.

This jockeying of position in the sector was underlined last week by an announcement from leading US auction site eBay and Lastminute.com that they will be co-operating in the auctioning of a number of luxury holidays tied into premium sports events.

“Co-operation” is the phrase used in the Internet world for this cozying up between what many people would assume to be natural potential adversaries.

It’s not a phrase you will read in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.

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