Belfast Telegraph

Float frenzy: Legoland and green energy giant sell shares to public

Merlin Entertainments, the theme park operator behind the London Eye, Alton Towers, Madame Tussauds and Legoland, has set out plans to raise £200m by floating a fifth of the company on the London stock market.

The IPO could value the private equity-owned business, which operates 99 attractions in 22 countries, at more than £3bn.

The fundraising is being made available to retail as well as institutional investors, with small backers able to invest £1,000 or more in the stake sale.

That is a third more than the minimum spend on Royal Mail stock, but chief executive Nick Varney said he expected strong interest because "it's a chance to own a bit of the London Eye and Legoland."

Mr Varney added that buoyant demand for Royal Mail's soaring shares, particularly amongst retail investors, had inspired confidence.

Merlin, whose other sites include Chessington World of Adventures and Warwick Castle, is the world's number two attractions company after Walt Disney.

Its current backers, private equity firms Blackstone and CVC, are to sell some of their stake in the IPO.

Kirkbi, the family-owned firm controlled by Denmark's richest man Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, said it intends to retain a significant shareholding following the flotation. Mr Kristiansen is the grandson of the Lego founder, which owns the Legoland and Lego trademarks and three-quarters of the Lego Group

The £200m will be used to pay down debt, which stands at around £1.2bn, and to expand in Asia, Mr Varney said. "Having been private equity-owned for 14 years, this is also about settling the long-term ownership and structure of Merlin without being bought and sold every three to five years," he added.

The company has identified 100 possible new sites for attractions such as Sea Life, Madame Tussauds and other Eye wheels around the world, and is aiming to open a new Legoland park every three years, in countries such as Japan and South Korea.

Mr Varney added: "Last time we looked at floating, in early 2010, the markets were very fragile and ultimately folded for about three years. It's now clear that, now the slight interference of the US debt ceiling crisis has gone away, we have healthy stock markets on both side of the Atlantic."

Merlin, which is chaired by former CBI president Sir John Sunderland, has hired Goldman Sachs and Barclays to run the offering along with Citi and Morgan Stanley.

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