Stake sales have slowed Formula One IPO drive

By Staff Reporter

Sep 21, 2012 08:09 AM EDT

Formula One cars will roar around Singapore's streets this weekend, but the prospect of the motor racing business floating on the stock market there this year has receded following stake sales by its main private equity backer.

The owners of Formula One had been preparing for a $3 billion initial public offering (IPO) in June but decided to hold off as global markets tumbled and investor mood soured after Facebook's (FB.O) plunge in value following its flotation.

Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's commercial chief, said then that Formula One would wait until the time was right before floating a business which has the long-term commercial rights to the fortnightly series of grand prix races.

The championship has reached Singapore but the headlines will be provided by the drivers rather than the businessmen drawn to the island nation for the event.

A source involved in Formula One told Reuters on Friday there were no immediate plans to launch an IPO.

Private equity firm CVC, the largest shareholder in Formula One since 2006, has this year quietly sold down its stake to around 35.5 percent from 63 percent without the fanfare that would have come with a flotation.

CVC has received $2.1 billion through sales to three new investors - U.S. groups Waddell & Reed and BlackRock (BLK.N) and Norway's Norges Bank Investment Management.

Formula One is believed to have preparations in place that can be revived at short notice should it decide to press ahead with the IPO but is content to bide its time after broadening is investor base.

"They don't have to do anything," said a second source close the business.

"As they go into the last quarter of the year they have a lot more options than they did at the beginning of the year."

Flotation in Singapore would allow Formula One to tap into Asian appetite for luxury brands and interest in sport.

However, its owners may also have been given pause for thought by the example of English soccer club Manchester United (MANU.N).

United listed in New York in August after ditching plans to float in Asia. The deal valued the club at $2.3 billion but shares have since fallen by more than 10 percent.

Potential investors would also press Formula One on its planning for when Ecclestone was no longer in charge.

Ecclestone, 81, has transformed the sport from a pastime for wealthy enthusiasts into a money-spinner that is expected to generate revenues of $2 billion this year.

Despite his age, the billionaire calls the shots in a business in which he retains a five percent stake and there is no obvious successor.

Formula One appointed Peter Brabeck as its chairman earlier this year. Brabeck also chairs Swiss food group Nestle (NESN.VX) and his appointment was seen as strengthening the board's business credentials ahead of any IPO.

This article is copyrighted by Reuters

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