Singapore approves $2.5 bln Formula One float

Singapore has cleared the sale of Formula One shares for more than US$2.5 billion in one of the world's biggest flotations this year, reports said on Tuesday, with pre-marketing to begin immediately.

Private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, which has a majority stake in the glitzy motor sport's holding company, will gauge interest among investors and fund managers with a view to selling part of its stake at the end of June.

Dow Jones Newswires said the Singapore Exchange had approved a listing by Formula One, which has been rumoured for the past two months.

A spokesman for the bourse, citing standard policy, said: "It is not our practice to publicly comment on our dealings with listing aspirants."

Reports of the initial public offering (IPO), which could raise as much as $3 billion, follow Friday's float of Facebook in the United States which valued the web giant at $104 billion before its share price plunged.

It would be the biggest IPO this year in Singapore, which also approved a float by Manchester United in September, according to sources. The English Premier League football club is said to be awaiting better market conditions.

Some companies are looking at Asia's cash-rich markets to raise funds as Europe grapples with a debt crisis and the United States pursues a fragile recovery.

Singapore also hosts a popular Formula One night race, one of 20 stops on its global tour this year, and has a strong fanbase for the sport.

Dow Jones said order-taking international roadshows would begin in the second week of next month. But the suggested timing of the IPO is brave after turbulence returned to global financial markets last week.

"Look at the muted first-day response to Facebook's $18.4 billion IPO last Friday. The F1 listing is not nearly as attractive and long-awaited as that," an unnamed investment banker told the Straits Times.

Reports of a possible share float broke in March and received a generally cool response among team principals in the sport, many of whom are battling financial problems.

But Caterham boss Tony Fernandes, the man behind successful budget airline AirAsia, backed the plan spearheaded by Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

"As a businessman I think if public money can improve the sport, and accountability and transparency, then we should go for it," Fernandes told AFP in March.

"I saw some comments where the team bosses said they were against it. I think until we know more about it, it's silly to be against it. Let's hear about it in the open."

CVC took majority control in 2006 of Ecclestone's Formula One Group, which has the right to commercially develop the sport, stage and promote events, sell broadcast footage and offer sponsorship and hospitality packages.

According to CVC's website, Formula One Group has turnover of 1.17 billion euros ($1.49 billion).

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