Category Archives: Auctions

Junk or Treasure Revisited

By Lloyd Graff

May of 2021, after over 50 years of treasure hunting in the machinery business, I am still making a living by searching for overlooked items to find diamonds covered in cutting oil. Some of these machines we might have actually sold their current owners. It makes me think back to a blog I wrote in 2018 about six de Kooning paintings found by a man named David Killen in a New Jersey storage locker. I decided to check up on what happened to the paintings and see if they sold for much money.

Here is the original blog, followed by an update of what happened to the paintings.

David Killen is an art dealer in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York. He is also a treasure hunter of the modern variety, a profession a humble used machinery dealer like myself connects with.

David is the kind of guy who frequents flea markets and auctions, not just because he needs inventory for his own bi-monthly auctions of prints and Tchotchkes, but because he loves the hunt. He’s 59 now and has been schlepping around art fairs and Swap-O-Ramas for 50 years. He thought that one day he might find an overlooked stash of value. It looks like he finally did.

Late last year at an estate sale in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, Killen bought the contents of a locker in a warehouse. The property had been owned by Susanne Schnitzer, who was the partner of Orrin Riley, a prominent art restorer who had restored several paintings by the Dutch painter Willem de Kooning. Riley died in 1986, and Schnitzer was run over by a garbage truck in New York City in 2009.

Schnitzer’s friends from New Jersey were her executors and they ultimately tired of paying the warehouse fees on the odds and ends in the locker. They had an auction house peruse the contents before they sold it, and it was pronounced “junk.” A bunch of prints of little value.

Killen lives for times like this. The rules of the game in situations of this nature are that the bidders get a glimpse of the contents but cannot analyze the goods in depth.

It’s a lot like bidding on a warehouse crammed with the flotsam and jetsam of 50 years of screw machining.  ACMEs, Davenports and New Britains caked with chips, clotted oil and crud, chip conveyors and stock reels askew, making for an obstacle course tougher than an an American Ninja Warrior challenge. I’ve seen men fall into the base of 8-spindle ACMEs, never to be heard from again.

Untitled XXXI, by Willem de Kooning

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David Killen knew the locker’s contents had the “junk” judgement by the fancy auction house, but he also knew the history of Orrin Riley being a confidante of de Kooning back in the 1970s when nobody knew his name. A guy like Killen develops a nose for value over 50 years. Did he have special inside knowledge about the locker? No. I can say this confidently because he hauled the contents out last December in his own truck and didn’t even check everything out immediately. It was just another collection of dusty goodies that he would auction off in his sweet time.

But then he saw the wooden boxes that said de Kooning printed on the outside. Maybe these weren’t prints. He had suspected there could be some gold in the locker when he bought it, or he would not have paid $15,000. He knew the background of Orrin Riley, who had done restoration work on de Kooning and begun the restoration department for the Guggenheim Museum. Riley was “big time.” David Killen’s nose for treasure smelled something sweet.

Last week Killen made an announcement to the press that he owned six authentic, but unsigned de Kooning paintings. They were authenticated by Lawrence Castagna, an art restoration authority who had worked both for Riley and as a studio assistant for de Kooning. Castagna feels confident that six of the paintings are the real thing. Willim de Kooning died in 1997, and his foundation in Manhattan does not authenticate works by the artist.

Killen also found a painting by Paul Klee, the famous Swiss painter.

The most recent comps on the seven original works of art, though the de Koonings are unsigned, would indicate a value of around $100 million for the group. What a haul for a struggling art dealer who deals mostly in nice prints.

As a lifelong treasure hunter who has never found a de Kooning myself, I love this story. I am not jealous of David Killen. I am thrilled for him.

His story is about the chase, not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I could have done a lot of other things in my career, but the machinery treasure hunt and all of the fascinating folks I’ve met along the way has kept me passionately in the game. I love it as much as ever, probably more, because I am acutely aware of the time limits we all have.

I really hope the de Koonings are the real thing, but honestly, I don’t think it will change David Killen much either way. At least I hope not.

Update: Killen was not one to sit on his prizes hoping they would gain in value with more scrutiny. He held an auction at his own gallery for the largest piece, with himself as the auctioneer. To his delight, it brought $1.2M in 2018. He sold the other five works sometime after on eBay for $1.3M, meaning he had pulled in $2.5M for his $15,000 educated gamble.

Question: What treasure have you uncovered?

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The Manufacturing Rebound

By Lloyd Graff

I talk to a lot of folks in the machining trade every day, and the clear sense I am getting is that business is improving. The automotive segment is definitely firming. Auto related work has bounced back from the April, May, June, July doldrums. Demand has picked up, and car showrooms are extremely short of hot inventory. 

European and Japanese companies were also shut down, and the supply chains are strained. Guns and the medical sector are strengthening. 

We are seeing an uptick in the used machinery business. The auctioneers are surprised at how strong their sale prices are holding up. Inventory of late model Swiss-type and multi-axis CNC machines appears to be light.

On the macroeconomic front, the recent perverse behavior of stocks is being attributed by pundits to the surprising decrease in unemployment after PPP money ran out and extra layoff checks ended. Evidently some people did choose to return to work.

Small businesses, especially those travel-related and restaurants, have been severely hurt, but the wounded giant called the American Economy appears to be healing. The prospect of multiple viable vaccines being approved soon, while good for most people in business, is viewed by some speculators as negative for tech stocks like Apple and Amazon, which have continued to thrive despite the swooning economy. It appears that improving conditions are sell signs for the option trader gamblers. 

From my observation, the impending election does not seem like it will be a significant issue for the stock market, but it could be an issue small business people.

They should ask LeBron for advice. He seems to know all.

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Do politics and NBA basketball mix well? 

Maybe the better question is does China own the NBA? Or perhaps the real question is does LeBron James play for the Los Angeles Lakers or Nike?

The three questions are tied together. LeBron signed a contract in 2019 easily worth a billion dollars with Nike, becoming its most valued endorser, though Michael Jordan trails him very closely.

The NBA also signed a $1.5 billion dollar contract last year with Tencent, the Chinese mega company, granting it the exclusive rights to broadcast all of the NBA games it chooses to air in China. The games are mainly watched by young people on their cell phones as they ride public transportation to work in the morning. 

The NBA has built academies in China to teach and promote the basketball. When Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, had the audacity to tweet critically about communist China crushing the human rights demonstrations in Hong Kong, the Beijing Party leaders bristled. Then the NBA bosses cowered and tried to make nice.

LeBron, who probably sees himself as a potential president of the United States, and heir to Oprah and Martin Luther King Jr. in America, had a real dilemma. It was magnified when COVID-19 hit midway through the 2020 NBA season. The players were undecided about continuing to play, but LeBron had the NBA, Nike, China, and Black Lives Matter all looking at him to thread the needle. It was a time to prove himself to be politically skillful before he even stepped on the court again with Anthony Davis and the rest of the Lakers.

I watched LeBron play brilliantly Monday in the playoff series, ironically against Daryl Morey’s Houston Rockets. Black Lives Matter signage was everywhere in the Orlando bubble, where all of the games are being played and broadcast on TNT and Disney’s ESPN. Player uniforms displayed social and political messages, and a huge VOTE sign was prominently displayed during all broadcasts. 

It is a fascinating mishmash of sports, business, politics, and LeBron, who is proving himself to be the Confucius of America in 2020.

Question: Is your business rebounding?

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A Time to be Bought, a Time to Die

By Lloyd Graff

It seems like it’s the season for a lot of machining businesses to be selling out or auctioned off. I have worked as an advisor on some of these situations as well, so I have had an inside look at buyers and sellers contorting to get a deal done on an operating business. Selling a job shop as a going concern is really tough unless it is a big and growing business, blessed with depth of management and ownership that is clear about what it wants and decisive when an appropriate buyer materializes. Having a limited debt also helps because it keeps lenders out of the negotiations.

There are buyers constantly looking for deals for attractive firms. Often these sellers are businesses that have already been sold before.

A company I am familiar with near Chicago in the screw machine business started more than 60 years ago with three old Davenport multi-spindles. They may still have those Davenports, along with 100 other ones rebuilt several times, as well as Acmes and New Britains, even a few Brown and Sharpes. They have bought out many small players along the way, been highly disciplined on capital equipment purchases, built up a factory in Mexico, diversified their locations, avoided unions, and consistently rewarded their private equity owners. Their reward—being sold every five to eight years to a new private equity company that can take advantage of fresh depreciation to shelter cash flow.

For better or worse, this is the game for profitable job shops these days because private equity firms are decisive and clear about what they are looking for. For profitable businesses over $10 or $15 million in sales, private equity firms are usually vying against other firms like themselves because most other job shop owners do not have the expertise or banking connections to compete with them for clean, nonproblematic companies.

However, some job shop owners like John Habe IV of Metal Seal Precision in Mentor, Ohio, have decided to challenge the private equity guys on deals that are a little too small for them or that are turn around situations.

John has acquired several turned parts firms, most of them under the radar for private equity firms because they lack profitability or size. But they fit into John’s group of companies. They add value that is greater than potential auction value, or they have extra equipment that can be quickly turned into cash.

John has developed internal talent that can dissect the financials of a target like a private equity firm would do, and he has access to consulting firms to augment his own people. He also has his brothers as partners to run the day-to-day operations of Metal Seal.

Most job shops are not easy turnaround candidates or fertile turf for private equity groups. They usually end up as auction or liquidation situations, often dictated by a lender, but not always.

There are no perfect times to sell or buy a job shop. Often owners wait for a market improvement to build up their free cash flow numbers. Private equity buyers and most other potential buyers usually want to buy a job shop for a multiple of EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization). That multiple is usually 3-5 times depending on the buyer’s perception of the company’s strength.

This is not a rule set in stone. Businesses that are breaking even or losing money can be sold if they have some vital ingredient that other companies covet, like people, location, unique customer relationships, or unusual processes or licenses that are hard to duplicate such as nickel plating or FDA approvals. Sometimes a synergy with a company’s customer base enhances the value of a business.

Yet the sale of businesses as going operations is usually a long contorted happening. Lawyers always slow things down with cumbersome contracts which require other lawyers to untangle. Environmental issues often pop up. Family jealousies derail many deals. Often buyers and sellers dislike one another, and emotions count when family businesses are being sold to outsiders.

When you see the auction brochure of a competitor come across your desk it was probably a candidate for a buyout as a going operation at one time. In the end, at least one important missing piece led to its eventual liquidation.

Question: Will the 2020 election affect your business or job?

 

 

 

 

 

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Swarfcast Ep. 6 – The Mind of an Auctioneer with Robert Levy

By Lloyd Graff

Scroll down to listen to the podcast interview with Robert Levy.

In today’s podcast we interviewed Robert Levy, longtime industrial auctioneer and owner of Robert Levy Associates, a firm that consults with companies looking to monetize their industrial assets.

Robert joined his family auction business, Norman Levy Associates, in 1980 but only had the opportunity to work with his father for three years. He and his brother continued to grow the company until finally selling it to DoveBid (now GoIndustry DoveBid) in 2000 for $30 million. He stayed on the board of directors at DoveBid but then parted ways four years later, dissatisfied with the direction of the company, which many unhappy former Norman Levy Associates employees had already quit.

At the end of the interview Robert said, “I’ve been in the business 40 years and I’ve been in three companies, and I would still like to be in the one I was at originally.” It was an interesting comment, but my bet is that Robert doesn’t regret his life’s journey from stand to stand.

Robert Levy of Robert Levy Associates, Inc.

Sometimes you have to burn down the old to grow and thrive, and if nothing else just survive. Sometimes the clear choice is to sell out to a competitor or private equity firm. Or, you hire someone like Robert to help liquidate your assets that are not giving you what you need anymore. Then go build something new and great.

You still get to keep your fond memories of the past.

Question: Does bidding in an auction excite you or make you crazy?

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Ep. 4 – Our Family Treasure Hunting Business

By Noah Graff

Listen to the podcast with the player below.

In today’s podcast Lloyd Graff and his son Noah delve into their family used machine tool biz… er treasure hunting business. They discuss how Noah came to work at Today’s Machining World and Graff-Pinkert, what it’s like working together and basic alchemy.

Question: Would you like being in business with a family member?

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Auction Action

I attended the auction of Caire Medical’s surplus machinery Nov. 4, in Indianapolis. The auctioneer, Asset Sales Inc. of Indian Trail, North Carolina, had a financial interest in the sale. There was an 18% buyer’s premium tacked onto the bid prices. The equipment was superb and the bidding was spirited.

The hottest piece in the sale was a Citizen M32 Type V, new in 2007, with a FMB barloader. The bid price was $262,500 plus 18%, taking it over $300,000. There were (2) M32 Type III machines (new in 2003) which fetched $160,000 and $140,000 plus BP. An A-16 VIP Citizen (new in 2006) sold for $50,000 plus BP.

Two Mori Seiki vertical machining centers (new in 2007) fetched $73,000 each. A similar machine in Seattle three months ago brought 65K. A nine-year-old Tsugami 10 pallet vertical machining center brought $140,000. A Nakamura TW-20, (new in 1992) fetched $95,000, and a similar machine (new in 1995) brought $65,000—don’t know why the difference.

I talked to a lot of people at the sale and a recurring theme was “business is good and I want to get the year end tax break.”

Another reason may be that the Japanese machine tool importers are low on inventory now. With the dollar dropping like a stone verses the yen, there is an expectation of price increases when the new machines come in.

Citizen and Nakamura tooling and accessories were also keenly bid on. One Citizen lot of tooling fetched $9,000. This was particularly interesting because conventional CAT 40 machining center holders brought modest prices.

What I gleaned from this sale is that “cream” machinery is escalating rapidly in price because of strong demand and the desire of successful entrepreneurs to capitalize on the raised expensing tax break in 2010.

Question: Do you think the machinery market will soften after the first of the year?

Citizen M32 Type V from the Caire Medical auction

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Industry Scuttlebutt

I talked to Jim Kucharski, National Sales Manager, of Maier USA, about the health of the company. Maier has made inroads as a new player in the North American CNC Swiss marketplace. It is now pushing in the medical and department of defense markets like the other contenders.

With the total Swiss market around 50 percent of last year, everybody is scrapping hard for business. Maier is a family business according to Kucharski, and son Michael recently bought the company out of reorganization in Germany to take out his father’s interest in the business. The senior Maier is a cancer survivor, but has suffered a recent setback in his health. Business is very soft in Germany with automotive suffering mightily. Michael had been leaning on his father to downsize the firm to meet reduced demand. With son Michael now fully in control the company has downsized the workforce at the German Black Forest plant.

According to Kucharski, Maier is selling machines now and business has stabilized since the reorganization.

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Okuma has a clever new promotion to goose interest in a sleepy market. The company is doing a contest for a two-year free lease of an Okuma machine tool. The winner will be chosen Okuma and will be determined by an essay or video submission explaining why they most need the machine. Go to their Web site for a more complete description of the contest.

I like the idea. It is already generating buzz. They are publicizing it on social media like Facebook and Twitter and will be putting up a sampling of videos on a YouTube channel. The winner will be announced in December. Meanwhile, they will be collecting emails and stories which will be valuable for many years to come, as well as accumulating points for being cool and fun.


Okuma America’s COO Explains Contest

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I’ve been collecting machine tool discounting stories. I recently talked to a West Coast company who said they have bought several Mazaks lately and received 10-15 percent off list. I heard of a 35 percent off sale on a Nakamura lathe last month.

Question: If I was looking to buy a new mainstream CNC lathe in the $150,000 list price range, what is the real price I can expect to pay?

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A CAM Operated Davenport in a CNC World

Last month I wrote an article about the death of Automatic Machining, in which I ended the piece with a reference to the magazine being a CAM operated Davenport in a CNC world.
Bob Brinkman, owner of Davenport, took umbrage at my comment. I am taking a moment to answer him.

Bob,
I love you and I love your product. My father made a lot of money running Davenports in World War II with the assistance of your father, Earl.
But sadly, today, the world of machining tends to look at your and my beloved Davenport automatic as a noisy representative of a bygone era. Right or wrong, the market for used Davenports, the world I live in, is in shambles. My brother Jim, my partner in our used machinery firm, Graff-Pinkert, attended an auction last week in Rhode Island and saw nice, operable, used Davenports with attachments sell for $250 each—and he passed on them. We recently traded our stock of 21 used Davenports for Maglites because we could not find a cash buyer. I know that your machines are still wonderfully productive pieces of equipment, but the market today is telling us bluntly that they are no longer valued by many buyers.

As always, I wish you all the best.

Lloyd

Automatic-machining-cover

Letter from Bob Brinkman

August 11, 2009

Dear Lloyd,

To quote President Ronald Reagan, “There you go again.”

In your article on the demise of Automatic Machining you imply that Davenport is going the way of Automatic Machining.  “A cam operated magazine (machine) in a CNC world.  The comparison could not be farther from the truth.

In spite of my repeated advice, Wayne Wood could not quite understand that he had to get engaged in the business, develop new perspectives and improve his product.

In comparison, we at Davenport have constantly improved the machine, the parts and our customer service to the point that we are now considered the only alternative for spare parts.  Lower prices, highest quality, and extensive inventory continue to provide our customers with a superior customer experience.  Not only that, our machines continue to produce millions of parts a day because the Davenport is the most economical, efficient and cost effective way to produce these parts.

Sure, CNC has its place and is very effective for many applications.  But the thousands of Davenports running out there prove that the machine is still viable and will continue to be.  Our HP servo driven machines can do many of the things a CNC machine can do at a fraction of the cost.

We intend to continue to support our customers with the best in parts, service, and support.  When I took over in 2003 our motto became, “Davenport, Another 100 Years”.  As the only remaining American made screw machine builder we would appreciate your support instead of your repeated derision.

R. J. Brinkman

Chairman

Davenport Machine

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Industry Scuttlebutt

Hydromat of St. Louis is suffering through a soft spell and has let about 35 people go from its peak employment. But a sign of the times is a fresh notice on the company’s Web site looking for new people.

They need a design engineer, a draftsman and an electrical control integrator.
I also heard through the grapevine that Bruno Schmitter, the head of the company, would like to buy a couple of CNC lathes to make more components in-house.
There is a strong rumor that Pfiffner in Switzerland has a severe cash flow problem and that company founder, Mr. Pfiffner, has infused the firm with a sizable sum of personal cash.

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Tad Yamamoto has been named CEO of Okuma America. He spent 1994 to 2002 in the U.S., then went back to Japan for six years and then spent a year getting reacclimated to the American company. This is not an unusual career path for a top executive of a Japanese multinational company.
By moving back and forth between Japan and the U.S. a Japanese executive keeps his ties and credibility strong in both places. The home Japanese execs keep their confidence that the man still shares the parent company values and the Americans believe that he knows the territory. Larry Schwartz continues as President and COO of Okuma America.

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The glutted screw machine market is going to get even more saturated in September. Niagara Machine Products in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, is being auctioned off by Glenn Gray’s Premier Asset Recovery Group September 16th and 17th. There are 50 multi-spindles including an MS32-C Index and (2) 8 spindle Euroturns to go with 40 Acmes and 60 centerless grinders.
This sale will be followed a week later by a DoveBid sale in Athens, Alabama, with 25 more 8 spindle Acmes and Conomatics.

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Chad Arthur, whose Arthur Machinery was the most dynamic dealer in machine tools in Illinois until his company spiraled into bankruptcy, has resurfaced as exclusive distributor for DMG in Illinois. Chad’s company, CDA Machinery, is based in Elk Grove Village Ill., as was Arthur Machinery. I think this is a good move for DMG because they needed a surge of energy, and few people in the business have more energy than ex-hockey player Chad Arthur when he is truly engaged.

Question:

Which machine tool builder from your experience has the best service?

And, which is more important for customer service, the builder or the distributor? (You can also comment at www.shopdoc.com)

Tad Yamamoto

Tad Yamamoto

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On the Way Up

By Lloyd Graff

June 3rd, and the world looks a lot different than just 30 days ago.
    GM finally did the dirty deed and filed, and the stock market reacted with relief. It appears suppliers are going to get paid from the Feds lending as the reorganization goes forward. BorgWarner stock is up 80 percent from its low and Johnson Controls has also bumped.
    All of the commodities are zooming with copper near $2.30 and ArcelorMittal stock more than double from its yearly low.
    Obviously, the markets are signaling a bottoming of the economy.
    One of the most encouraging aspects of what’s going on is the strength of the California home market. Sales have been improving for existing homes and the unsold overhang is shrinking. Home prices have actually been rising recently. California led us into the housing chaos and it appears to be leading us out. New homebuyers are appearing in Phoenix, Florida and Vegas where syndicates are coming in with speculative bids for cash on multiple units.
    In the real machining world we live in, the signs of a rebound are beginning to show. Hoff-Hilk’s Bystrom sale last week was a winner with Swiss CNC machines, and Gerry Mannion told me that his recent Bosch sale surprised big on the upside. On the other hand, Robert Levy of Hilco says that he remains very conservative after seeing the market for used twin grip Cincy centerless grinders grind to a halt. Presses and multi-spindle screw machines have no pulse right now, and gear equipment is languishing.
    Intrest rates are rising on 10 year U.S. government bonds, the dollar is weak, the big banks have floated $70 billion in stock and are begging to pay back the TARP. Huge money is leaving the sidelines for investments that appear to have upside. Put it all together and it smells like a recovery in the womb, if we can hang in there while inventories gradually rebuild.

Question: Do you feel more upbeat about business now that GM has finally filed?

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