It’s the divorce of the century, and one where potential suitors are already eagerly lining up in hopes of getting in on the rebound. After 46 years together, Fiat and Ferrari are calling it quits, and the world’s most famous sports car manufacturer is stepping out on its own for the first time since before man walked on the moon. While it’s by no means an acrimonious breakup (it’s business, so of course there are plenty of strings attached), repercussions from the move could have an impact in both the business and automotive worlds.
While Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (and Ferrari) CEO Sergio Marchionne first announced the separation last October, the company filed its plan for Ferrari’s IPO with the Securities and Exchange Commission just last week. Details like the number of shares offered, and pricing is yet to be determined, but from what we already know, the separation will be a little more complex than just packing a U-Haul and moving away from the old homestead.
Once free from FCA, the Ferrari brand will now be listed as Ferrari NV, a holding company registered in the Netherlands. But don’t think that the brand is ending operations of Maranello anytime soon, it’s following a similar strategy used by FCA when it registered as a London-based company in 2014. But then there’s the matter of just how independent Ferrari will really be. Marchionne said no more than 10% of the company will be offered to the public, with 10% going to Piero Ferrari, founder Enzo Ferrari’s lone surviving son, and 80% to be distributed among FCA shareholders.
If it sounds like Ferrari will be staying firmly in FCA’s orbit, that’s because it will be. Among the 80% distributed to current shareholders, the FTC filing calls for a loyalty share plan, giving long-time investors greater voting power at the new company. This makes the two biggest beneficiaries of this plan Piero Ferrari, who is expected to have a 15% share of voting power, and Exor SpA, an Italian investment company owned by the Agnelli family, the majority shareholders of Fiat, and run by FCA Chairman John Elkann, and Sergio Marchionne, who will have 30%. As sellers and shareholders, FCA will get an initial cash influx from the IPO, and benefit from Ferrari’s future successes, while divesting itself of the headaches of day-to-day ownership.
With the profits from selling the company, Marchionne plans on using that windfall as a cornerstone in FCA’s plan to reduce its debt and help fund its aggressive global expansion. But spinning off Ferrari also calls into question Marchionne’s motives when it comes to his crusade to consolidate the auto industry. After recently changing tack and backing away from the idea, pushing the idea of a pan-FCA alliance would probably be an even harder sell after orchestrating one of the largest cash grabs of the year.
Analysts expect Ferrari to be worth upwards of $11 billion by the time the separation is complete, or about 60% of FCA’s current value. Cashing out its golden goose will likely result in FCA stock being severely reduced in the short term, and could spell trouble for the brand in the future, as neither of its premium brands, Maserati and Alfa Romeo, are nearly as profitable as the Ferrari.
And unlimited success shouldn’t be considered a sure thing for Ferrari either. A lot has changed since it joined the Fiat fold in 1969. Back then, independent automakers like Lamborghini, Porsche, and Alfa Romeo were struggling to survive right alongside the legendary Prancing Horse brand. Today, they’re all under the wing of automotive titans. Yes, it was named the world’s most powerful brand in 2014, and yes, it has become a global titan on the strength of building fewer than 8,000 cars a year, but without the support of one of the world’s largest automakers firmly behind it, some far-off economic downturn could be potentially disastrous for it.
By this time next year, Ferrari will be technically on its own, and will be traded on the New York Stock Exchange. But there are a number of big questions left unanswered, the largest being what’s next for the brand? Tellingly, Marchionne has said that he expects investors not to look at the company as an automaker, but as a luxury goods company, like Prada SpA, or Hermes International. With luxury company stocks soaring, that should be music to investors ears. For Ferrari fans, it could spell trouble. With vintage models tripling in value over the last six years, if you’re looking for quick profit, you’d probably be better off investing in a vintage car than in the Prancing Horse itself.
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