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CVC delays F1 float to 2014

NEWS STORY
30/10/2012

With hindsight, it is perhaps lucky that CVC delayed a flotation of the sport on the Singapore stock exchange. F1 was due to be listed in June in an Initial Public Offering (IPO) which was expected to value it at as much as £6bn. However, turmoil on the world's stock exchanges led to the IPO being delayed to later this year and then to 2013. Now, an article by Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt in the Telegraph reveals that not only will the float not take place next year but it may not go ahead until mid-2014. It could all be for the best.

Since June, F1's former chairman Gerhard Gribkowsky has been found guilty in Munich of receiving an alleged bribe from the sport's boss Bernie Ecclestone who is himself now facing the threat of legal action in Germany. In addition, over the past five months the 2013 New Jersey Grand Prix has bitten the dust, the Singapore Grand Prix has reportedly been re-signed at a lower annual fee and the historic Nurburgring has been dropped from F1's calendar due to financial troubles.

Instead of going ahead with the float F1 has refinanced its debt and taken out a £625m loan which will be paid to its owners so that they get a payout regardless. In his article, Sylt quotes a source close to CVC who says "we have done a further refinancing of the business. It is announced, allocated and is funding over the coming days. We would have loved to have got the IPO out of the way but we have been able to do a further refinancing which is good news. It is hard to tell depending on what happens with the markets but I think 12 to 18 months is probably a realistic time-frame."

In a nod to the recent threats of legal action against Ecclestone, the source adds that "you would hope by that period Germany would have resolved itself."

In June Gribkowsky, the former chief risk officer of German bank BayernLB, was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for tax evasion and receiving an alleged £27.5m bribe from Ecclestone and his family trust Bambino.

Gribkowsky was responsible for selling BayernLB's 47.2% stake in F1 which was bought by CVC for £481m in 2006. Over the following two years Gribkowsky was paid £27.5m but did not declare it to his employer or the tax authority in Germany where he was resident. Ecclestone admits to making the payment but says he did so because Gribkowsky threatened to make false allegations about his tax affairs to HM Revenue & Customs if he did not get the money.

In his court testimony Gribkowsky said he received the money in return for waving through the sale to CVC. Since then, he has claimed to prosecutors that although CVC was the highest bidder, he could have sold F1 for £218m more than it paid. One wonders how he could prove this in the absence of a higher bidder but that is a story for another day. Last week BayernLB wrote to Ecclestone demanding that he pay the £218m difference to the bank along with £41.2m of alleged kickbacks received by him and Bambino from the sale.

Ecclestone has refused to pay and says he will fight BayernLB in court. "I don't see how it can come to an end really," he told Sylt adding "the float will be in 2014 probably. All the floats that have tried to get out there haven't happened and I don't know whether the market is going to change."

CVC reduced the pressure to float F1 earlier this year when it sold a 28.3% stake in the business for £1.3bn ($2.1bn) to three money managers - BlackRock, Waddell & Reed and Norges, the investment division of Norway's central bank. The CVC source says "the new partners are saying to us don't rush to IPO the business. Don't give it away just because you're in a hurry. Take your time. Get full value for it."

The delay raises the question of whether F1 will ever float. It has already been put back twice this year and it isn't the first time this has happened. Ecclestone first tried to float F1 in 1997 but this stalled when several teams refused to sign a long term contract unless they received a higher share of the sport's revenues. The flotation was delayed until 2000 but this hit the buffers when the European Commission launched an anti-competition investigation into the sport in 1999.

Two years ago Ecclestone revealed that F1 will never float whilst he is its boss. "There's no way I would sit in front of a load of shareholders. It wouldn't float under me," he said. Although times have changed, F1 still remains in private hands.

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