The nice thing about a NASDAQ-listed Formula One group is that there is now a level of transparency which was unthinkable in the days of Bernie Ecclestone, even if some of the actual numbers are still obscured to some extent.
At the moment there is still a slight state of flux because it is too early to state the Formula One group results in full because of the financial juggling going on to pay for the purchase, but there are clear signs that this will be possible in the future.
There are still some great little tidbits emerging from the paperwork, such as the revelation that there was “an additional fixed payment made to one team that qualified for a performance-related prize fund element in 2016”. This is believed to have been a hefty $30 million paid to Mercedes for having won two consecutive World Championships.
There are some rumours kicking around in the Spanish media which suggests that Ferrari has bought into the Formula One group, if this is the case, it has not yet been reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission – which means that it hasn’t happened and the reports are wrong. As soon as it does happen (if it does) it will be reported. When it comes to such things, you cannot open a filing cabinet without reporting it to the SEC.
What is interesting in the latest raft of paperwork is that 19 million FWONK shares (horrid name, but these are the important ones) have been retained in treasury. “These FWONK shares will be reserved for possible sale to the F1 teams,” it says. “To the extent such shares are not sold to F1 teams within six months following the second closing, the shares will be retired.” This means that the teams have until mid July to take up the offer, after which it will be off the table.
The other interesting point is that Liberty is going to work to lighten F1’s debt load, in order to create more value and more profits in the mid- to long-term future.
In February, Liberty launched “a process to refinance” a portion of a $3.1 billion Formula One loan. The proposed terms provide for a reduction in the interest rate and an extension of the debt repayment date from July 2021 to February 2024, although this could be sooner if another $1 billion loan, due to be paid by July 2022, is paid off. Getting rid of the $1 billion loan (which has a higher interest rate) is thus the priority.
Liberty says it intends to use excess cash on the balance sheet to repay approximately $300 million of that loan. This will bring down the overall debt from $4.1 billion, to $3.8 billion. It isn’t much, but you have to start somewhere.
This is a good sign as it is much wiser to stop lugging the debt around like a ball and chain, as CVC had been doing. The debt was created by CVC’s borrowing, which amounted to little more than the asset-stripping of F1’s future profits.
They will pay for that now as the value of the shares they hold will remain lower until the debts are cleared. They can sell them and cash out in the summer, but the shares will not be as valuable as they could be in the future. However these people have always had the “bird in the hand” attitude when it comes to grabbing cash and so it is worth speculating that they will sell quickly as the investment made has paid off handsomely already – at the expense of the sport.
No-one will weep their disappearance.