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Williams see stock market flotation as solution to loss of sponsorship

NEWS STORY
06/02/2011

The first thing we need to do is disclose that the headline of this article wasn't created by the brains here at Pitpass. It shares its name with a piece in the Guardian on Friday which was spotted by Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt. The headline of the Guardian article raises an incredibly interesting point which isn't covered in the newspaper's piece itself so Sylt thought it merited analysis.

We should also stress that Williams has not yet declared what it is going to do with the proceeds of its flotation. When Williams' chairman Adam Parr was recently asked "Would any flotation involve raising funds for the company?" he replied "No." Every flotation raises funds as a consequence of the public buying shares so it would seem that Parr's response refers to whether the funds raised will be for the company.

If the company won't be using the funds raised by a float then they would presumably go directly to the legal owners of the shares: the shareholders. This would mean that the money raised by the float would be going straight to Sir Frank Williams, Christian Wolff and Patrick Head. But how would this "secure the future of the team" which Williams himself has stated is the objective of the float?

So, although Parr directly states that the flotation will not raise funds for the company it is hard to see how this could be the case. Pitpass isn't alone in holding this view as the Guardian too seems to believe that the funds raised will be for the company. The newspaper's headline says it all: Williams see stock market flotation as solution to loss of sponsorship.

Presumably the Guardian knows what it is on about and its source at the Press Association (which supplied the article) based its headline on some kind of insight. But if the headline is true then it could have some interesting consequences for Williams' flotation.

If Williams does indeed see the flotation as a solution to replace lost sponsorship then the team will be OK this year when the public pays for its shares but what about next year? Will Williams need to sell more shares in 2012 if it fails to gain sponsorship then?

The team surely can't keep on floating a 28% stake too many times since it only has 100% to play with. It could issue more shares - a process which dilutes the value of the public's shares unless they buy more. However, if this is a possibility then it would be better for the public to know before they invest their money. This raises the million dollar question - what is Williams really going to do with the funds raised?

As we have said above, if the funds will go into the shareholders' pockets it is hard to see how it would secure the future of the company. Likewise, if the funds will be used to cover lost sponsorship then it is hard to see how it would create long term stability.

The only option which seems to make sense is that the flotation will involve raising funds for the company. The reason for this is that if the company uses the funds which are raised in the float to build up its business then the value of the shares should increase which gives the public a real incentive to buy them.

But what could Williams buy with the funds to build up its business? In the current climate of cost cutting and restriction on resources it would seem unwise for the team to use the funds to buy an asset such as a windtunnel. However Williams could use the funds to create new expansions such as the facility it has in Qatar which works on F1-related research and development projects.

This kind of use of the funds may appeal to institutional investors (such as banks who buy huge numbers of shares) since it would grow and diversify the business in the long-term. However, individual fan investors may not be so happy with it since the team wouldn't be using the funds to directly improve its race performance.

Until Williams reveals what it is actually going to do with the funds we can only speculate. You would have thought that it would have cleared this question up when it announced the float but in F1, as we know from experience, anything can happen. And usually does!

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