Aston Martin: F1 billionaire owner leads rescue deal

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Aston Martin carsImage source, Reuters

Struggling luxury UK carmaker Aston Martin has announced plans to raise emergency funding worth £500m.

A consortium led by billionaire Lawrence Stroll will put in £182m, with the rest of the money coming from existing investors.

Mr Stroll partly owns the Racing Point Formula 1 team, which will be branded Aston Martin from 2021 under the deal.

The move comes hours after a board meeting held to discuss how to prop up the ailing firm.

Aston Martin's best known customer is fictional spy James Bond and the company recently revealed that four of its cars will feature in the next Bond movie, No Time To Die.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Lawrence Stroll partly owns the Racing Point Formula 1 team

The carmaker said its latest financial moves were aimed at strengthening its balance sheet after its "disappointing performance" in 2019.

Mr Stroll's consortium will take a 20% stake in the company and he will become its executive chairman.

As a result, Penny Hughes will be stepping down as Aston Martin's chairman once the deal is completed.

It's all very well to build James Bond's company cars, but Aston Martin can't rely on a flashy brand alone.

Many of its troubles can be traced to the decision to build a new factory at St Athan in South Wales, where it will produce its long-anticipated sports utility vehicle, the DBX.

An ambitious move, it could have big long-term benefits for the carmaker.

But in the short term, it has been struggling to generate enough cash to pay its bills, including the costs of setting up the factory.

Dealers have been reducing stock rather than ordering new cars, while average selling prices have been falling, weighing on profits.

Last year, the company was forced to borrow £120m at a steep interest rate in order to prop up its operations. It had been facing the prospect of borrowing even more.

The new funding from Lawrence Stroll will give Aston Martin some much-needed stability. It now has breathing space in which to get the DBX into production, and implement a cost-cutting programme.

Meanwhile the Canadian billionaire will be able to put an Aston Martin badge on his F1 cars - opening up new opportunities both to burnish the brand and to exploit its petrol-scented cachet.

She said: "The difficult trading performance in 2019 resulted in severe pressure on liquidity which has left the company with no alternative but to seek substantial additional equity financing.

"Without this, the balance sheet is not robust enough to support the operations of the group.

"Notwithstanding recent weak trading, the strength of the Aston Martin brand and our expanding portfolio of cars has allowed us to attract a strong new partner in Mr Stroll to support the turnaround of the business."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Four Aston Martins will feature in the next Bond movie, No Time To Die

Earlier this month, the 106-year-old firm issued a profit warning, saying annual earnings were expected to fall by nearly half from a year earlier.

It said core retail sales - which covers sales from Aston Martin dealers to consumers - were up 12% from a year earlier. However, wholesale volumes - which covers how many cars the dealers are ordering from Aston Martin itself - were down 7% to 5,809.

The company said it was expecting earnings of between £130m and £140m, well below the £247.3m it reported last year.