Friday, June 25, 2010

DIC Cashes Out of Merlin (Madame Tussaud's)

Asa Fitch over at The National reports that DIC has sold its remaining 6% stake in Merlin to CVC.  No doubt an element of cash need drove the sale, though DIC received the lion's share of its return in 2007 when it received GBP 1 billion in cash plus 17% of Merlin.  This is compared to the purchase price of GBP800 million in 2005.  

The additional amount for the sale to CVC is icing on the cake.

According to CVC's press release on the sale, the ownership of the Company is now KIRKBI 36%,  Blackstone 34%, CVC 28%, management 2%.

With no single investor holding majority control, managing the Company will be a bit trickier than if there were a dominant shareholder.   

On the other hand, a distinct benefit is that cash calls for new equity (if any is required) will not fall disproportionately on any one shareholder.  

The Company needs cash to fund its "ambitious growth programme" as the CVC press release states.  And there is the unfortunate bunching of loan maturities - the extension of which is being negotiated currently.  Both potential cash demands.

Additional debt financing is unlikely.

The CVC press release also states that "Merlin does not intend to increase its financial leverage."   I suspect that the decision reflects more than sober financial self-discipline. Bankers are now less willing to lever up the company than they were during the  "Bonny" days when Charterhouse owned Madame Tussaud's.  Then loans were abundant.  And with easy terms - long dated bullet loans.    

That leaves additional equity.

Last October, the Financial Times reported that Merlin would IPO in 2Q10 with the transaction mooted at some GBP2 billion.  The sale to CVC suggests that the IPO route is not as likely as there is little reason for Blackstone to reduce its position in a trade sale if an attractive IPO is imminent. 

The remaining source is private equity - and perhaps a rationale for several rather than one dominant shareholder.

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