As­ton takes stock

We watch British firm’s flota­tion

Autocar - - THIS WEEK - PHOTOGR APHY MAX EAREY

While stand­ing on the first floor of the Lon­don Stock Ex­change (LSE) with CEO Andy Palmer and 100 As­ton Martin faith­ful, watch­ing the en­trance hall clock count down to 8am to be­gin As­ton’s life as a pub­lic com­pany, I fell to won­der­ing which of the mir­a­cles that have sus­tained this unique com­pany was the most sig­nif­i­cant.

Was it that this 105-year-old story be­gan with two men in a Lon­don shed set­ting out to build a bet­ter rac­ing car and nam­ing it af­ter their favourite hill climb? Was it that seven times in its his­tory, this com­pany has been f lat broke, only to be re­peat­edly res­cued (as oth­ers were not) by peo­ple who knew its value?

Or was it that this com­pany, worth less than £1 at times in its un­prof­itable past, was to­day be­ing in­vited into Lon­don’s sanc­tum of the sol­vent hav­ing proved its value at north of £4 bil­lion? This last, I de­cided, was the most re­mark­able.

The day be­gan at 6.40am in Lon­don’s Park Lane, where Palmer and his man­age­ment team were stay­ing to be ready for the 8am stock de­but. A cou­ple of months pre­vi­ously, As­ton’s prin­ci­pal share­hold­ers in Italy and Kuwait had sig­nalled their will­ing­ness to sell 25% of the com­pany in an ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing (IPO), deal­ing first with big in­sti­tu­tions but from 8 Oc­to­ber invit­ing pri­vate in­vestors to par­tic­i­pate. The last such op­por­tu­nity ended 28 years ago when Ford bought Jaguar, re­mov­ing it from the pub­lic lists.

Un­til we climbed into a Mercedes peo­ple­car­rier for the 10-minute drive across town to the new LSE, in Pa­ter­nos­ter Square un­der the shadow of St Paul’s Cathe­dral, I hadn’t ap­pre­ci­ated the ex­tent to which As­ton’s prin­ci­pals were see­ing this as a mo­ment for cel­e­bra­tion. Palmer, de­sign di­rec­tor Marek Re­ich­man and CFO Mark Wil­son – my com­pan­ions in the Merc – were weary from busi­ness vis­its to Frank­furt and Paris, but buoyed by this new proof of the value of their past four years’ work. So, it seemed, were the prin­ci­pals of the LSE. They were stag­ing this break­fast with As­ton in­vestors, own­ers, sup­pli­ers and cus­tomers. Then we’d gather un­der the clock and watch the first few min­utes’ trad­ing on huge screens po­si­tioned for mo­ments like this.

While head­ing across town, I learned on the qt that the open­ing price of As­ton Martin Lagonda Global Hold­ings shares would be £19. Pre­vi­ously, we’d only known it would fall in a range be­tween £18.50 and £20. That would raise £1.08bn for share­hold­ers and value the whole com­pany at £4.33bn (at least six times its value when Ford sold it in 2004). That cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion would fall just short of the fig­ure needed to join the pres­ti­gious FTSE 100 group of com­pa­nies, although if it pro­gresses as ex­pected, AML can ex­pect to make the list be­fore long.

We ar­rived in Pa­ter­nos­ter Square with the first rays of sun peep­ing around cor­ners of build­ings and fall­ing on an im­pres­sive as­sem­blage of As­tons that in­cluded the in­evitable Bond DB5 and a new Valkyrie, a record­ing of whose en­gine sound­track on Cos­worth’s dyno (I had learned in the back of the Merc) would soon ap­pear on Palmer’s Twit­ter feed at 8am. Re­ich­man de­scribed it as the new na­tional an­them…

The break­fast room was packed. The crois­sants were classy. Fa­mil­iar As­ton faces were ev­ery­where, and I spot­ted some es­pe­cially hap­py­look­ing in­di­vid­u­als who might have been ex­ist­ing in­vestors. They had cause to feel good: they were be­ing hand­somely re­warded for their in­vest­ment (14 years of it, in the case of the Kuwaitis) while re­tain­ing 70% of a rapidly ex­pand­ing com­pany. Palmer was smil­ing too: his new 0.6% stake is worth £24 mil­lion…

We as­sem­bled. The au­di­ence joined in the fi­nal three-two-one of the count­down. Then there was a loud fan­fare to cover an elec­tronic pause while prices ap­peared on a big trad­ing page. Amid cheers, the first deal was at £19.05 and trad­ing held in that area for a while, but by 8.30am, it had dropped to £18 and most of the au­di­ence had melted away. In in­ter­views, Palmer was coolly ob­serv­ing that as the com­pany’s first IPO had taken 105 years, he wasn’t go­ing to fret about the first half hour.

Wil­son reck­oned that if the shares ended the first day at around £18.30, he’d be happy. Oth­ers re­ferred to Fer­rari, which f loated at $50 a share in 2015 and fell to $35 be­fore tre­bling the of­fer price. At the end of the day, the AML shares were £18.25 – on course – but the next day’s head­lines had As­ton ‘skid­ding’ and ‘crash­ing’, although they did nei­ther thing.

Those at the helm of As­ton Martin were ex­pect­ing it. If you run a pub­lic com­pany, ev­ery­one knows your busi­ness and has an opin­ion on what you should be do­ing next. Those in the know say that it’s the be­gin­ning of a long game, but no less ex­cit­ing for that.

A £19 share price would value the com­pany at £4.33 bil­lion

LSE laid on a spe­cial car park for a hand­ful of As­tons

As­ton’s car dis­play out­side the LSE in­cluded 007’s DB5

Palmer wel­comed to LSE by its chair­man, Don­ald Bry­don CBE

As­ton’s share price started strongly but fell back slightly

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