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NEWS STORY
27/11/2008

You don't hear too many tales of good fortune in business at the moment. The world's biggest companies all seem to be on the ropes so it comes as a bit of a surprise to hear that CVC, majority owner of F1's commercial rights holder, has had a record year.

The news comes courtesy of an article in the Independent by Pitpass' business reporter Chris Sylt who tracked down CVC's accounts in its Luxembourg home. CVC is in control of 18.8bn of investment funds which it has used to buy businesses such as F1 as well as luggage company Samsonite and the AA. CVC makes its money from a fee of around 1.5% on the money in the funds it manages it also gets returns from a small stake it has in the funds.

In the 12 months to March 2008, its fund management fees increased 24% to 181.4m giving it total revenues of 183.6m. During the financial year a complex shuffle saw its business move to a new type of investment structure in Luxembourg leading to CVC registering an 835m profit as an extraordinary item. Factoring this out of the bottom line yields an after tax profit of 76.4m, up 72% on the previous year.

There aren't too many companies with results like these at the moment, least of all, F1 itself as its UK holding company registered a 205m loss last year. CVC's 4.8bn Fund IV, which owns F1, has already achieved a 52.9% rate of return from its other investments so the sport has a lot to live up to.

Recent speculation has suggested that the teams are on the verge of demanding more money from F1 and that CVC's return would be severely compromised if they do so. The risk of the sport going to the wall if that happens is a real one and a quick look through CVC's history book shows that it isn't afraid to pull the plug if needs be. At the height of the dot.com bubble in 2000, CVC pumped $11m into the ISP Lucky Surf and $9.6m into technology firm Malibu Networks but both investments were subsequently written off.

The people who make the money from the financial success of F1 and CVC's other investments are its 140 staff who, even including secretaries and lackies into the total, are paid a whopping average of 370,000. At the top of the tree are CVC's co-founders, Leeds born chairman Michael Smith and Scot Donald Mackenzie, a fervent F1 fan who is often found schmoozing on the grid at races.

Buyout firms such as CVC are thought to be worth around 5% of the funds they manage which would put a 940m price tag on the company giving the 9.75% stakes directly owned by Smith and Mackenzie a value of 90m each.

It remains to be seen how long CVC can keep up its meteoric growth in the gloomy economy. The firm has a stake in UK retailer Debenhams which, like many high street stores, has been hit by the downturn and could suffer from paying high rents whilst more money is spent online. Debenhams kick-started this year's pre-Christmas discounts last Wednesday with a three-day sale offering up to 25% off. Much as they would love it, it isn't likely that the circuits paying the huge fees to host F1 will see this stunt replicated by CVC.

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