Financier Paul Coulson signalled on Thursday he plans to press the start button on Ardagh Group's long-awaited stock market flotation as soon as March, with initial filings with US authorities expected to be made next month.
On a call with analysts after the maker of glass bottles and metal containers reported a 38 per cent surge in revenues in the third quarter, the Ardagh executive chairman said he will like to “get on with” the initial public offering (IPO) in March or April, subject to market conditions.
Mr Coulson also said that as the company will only be seeking to raise a small amount initially – about €250 million – it would make it easier to deal with market vagaries at the time. Crucially, having a public listing would give it access to equity markets to help fund further acquisitions as it concentrates on cutting its debt ratios.
Ardagh, whose customers range from Coca-Cola to L'Oreal, has mostly used the market for high-yield, or sub-investment grade, debt to grow by acquisition in the past two decades from the former Irish Glass Bottle Company into one of the world's largest glass bottle and metal packaging groups.
In June, it completed its biggest deal, the $3.4 billion (€3.11 billion) purchase of a beverage cans business from US packaging company Ball Corp and British peer Rexam.
Mr Coulson, who originally took the business private in 2003, has been plotting a return of the group to the market since 2011. However, this has been delayed by market volatility and the group being distracted, at times, by acquisition opportunities, funded by debt. Most recently, it pulled a planned IPO of its metal-containers unit almost a year ago.
The group has also refinanced billions of euros of debt so far in 2016, taking advantage of low bond yields in global markets. Mr Coulson suggested to analysts that Ardagh will refinance more debt next year.
Meanwhile, the latest company report showed that revenues breached that €2 billion level for the first ever three-month period in the third quarter, on the back of the beverage cans purchase. It compares with €1.4 billion for the year-earlier period.
However, revenue actually declined by 5 per cent if the third-quarter comparison takes into consideration how the acquired assets performed a year ago, when they weren’t under Ardagh’s ownership. The drop was largely a result of a weak harvest impacting demand for metal packaging and “ongoing softness in the US beer market,” it said.
Mr Coulson said the group has been built on the assumption that the areas in which it operates offer few growth opportunities, other than by acquiring businesses, integrating them and making them more efficient and profitable.
He owns about 36 per cent of the business and has indicated that it will pay dividends to shareholders from the outset of its return to equity markets.
Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) rose to €379 million in the reporting quarter from €277 million a year earlier, while the group’s net debt fell to €7.2 billion at the end of September from €7.37 billion in June.