Billionaire duo eye Aston Martin
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Bernard Arnault and Albert Frère, two of Europe’s most prominent billionaires, are considering a bid for Aston Martin, the British luxury sports carmaker that has been put up for sale by Ford Motor.
Mr Arnault, 57, is the chairman, chief executive and controlling shareholder of LVMH, the Paris-based luxury goods multinational that includes Louis Vuitton and Fendi among its brands. He is France’s richest man.
Mr Frère, 80, chairs Groupe Bruxelles Lambert, the listed Belgian investment company that owns big stakes in Total, the oil group, and Lafarge, the cement maker.
The pair are close friends and already jointly own the prestigious Château Cheval Blanc winery in Bordeaux, which they bought in 1998.
The two billionaires announced on Thursday that they were formally joining forces to create a joint investment structure involving Groupe Arnault, which is owned by Mr Arnault, and the Frère-controlled NPM/CNP.
A person close to the pair said: “They are looking at Aston Martin. It falls within the scope of their investment fund.”
Another person with knowledge of the situation confirmed that any bid for Aston Martin could be made through the new structure, adding that such an offer would probably be worth more than €1bn.
Ford took a controlling stake in Aston Martin in 1987, but the troubled US carmaker has recently decided to sell the marque – famed for its use in James Bond films – as part of a broad restructuring.
UBS, the investment bank running the auction, has sent out a preliminary information memorandum to prospective bidders. It is shortly expected to draw up a list of those it considers serious bidders.
The newly-formalised collaboration between Mr Frère and Mr Arnault will be able to draw on an equity financing capacity of €1bn. By borrowing money, the private investment vehicle could increase its financial firepower to €4bn-€5bn.
It is becoming more common for wealthy individuals to adopt tactics typically employed by private equity groups. These include Philip Green, the UK retail entrepreneur, Ron Perelman, the US financier, and Naguib Sawiris, the Egyptian telecommunications investor.
In a press release announcing their joint investment plan, Mr Frère and Mr Arnault said the new partnership would take stakes mainly in European companies. They added that several projects were already being studied, without giving further details.
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