Merlin plans to float on London stock market in £4bn deal

Once float is completed, Merlin will have 20 per cent of its shares listed, implying an equity valuation of £3 billion

The London Eye is seen near the Houses of Parliament at dawn in central London. Merlin Entertainments, whose attractions include the Madame Tussauds waxworks and Legoland theme parks, plans to sell at least 20 per cent of its shares in a stock market debut in London. Photograph: Reuters

The London Eye is seen near the Houses of Parliament at dawn in central London. Merlin Entertainments, whose attractions include the Madame Tussauds waxworks and Legoland theme parks, plans to sell at least 20 per cent of its shares in a stock market debut in London. Photograph: Reuters

 

Merlin Entertainments has announced eagerly-awaited plans to float on the London stock market in a deal which could value the owner of Madame Tussauds waxworks and the Legoland theme parks at more than £4 billion.

The world’s second-largest visitor attraction operator after Walt Disney said yesterday it plans to raise £200 million by selling new shares in an initial public offering to pay down debt, which stands at about £1.2 billion.

In addition, the company’s private equity owners – Blackstone Group and CVC Capital Partners, as well as Kirkbi, a private Denmark investment vehicle – will sell some of their stakes in a secondary issue, aiming to raise about £600 million.

Once the float is completed, Merlin will have 20 per cent of its shares listed, implying an equity valuation of £3 billion.

Kirkbi, which is controlled by Denmark’s richest man Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, the grandson of Lego founder Ole Kirk Kristiansen and who owns 75 per cent of the Lego Group, has a 36 per cent stake in Merlin and intends to retain a significant holding following the flotation.

Blackstone and CVC own 34 per cent and 28 per cent of the theme park operator respectively.

The new share offer will be accessible to smaller shareholders, with a minimum investment stake of £1,000.

Shareholders will also get a 30 per cent discount on an annual pass to Merlin sites for either two adults or a family.


Market volatility
Merlin, which was valued at £2.25 billion in 2010 when private equity firm CVC bought its stake, had hoped to float that year, but abandoned the plan because of market volatility.

However, demand for stock market flotations has increased in recent months, boosted by confidence in the economy and support from US investors, propelling the London market towards its best year since the financial crisis.

Merlin chief Nick Varney said the share sale would provide the company with “the platform for our next stage of development and allow us to plan for the longer term”. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013