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Magical launch for Merlin shares

The company behind attractions including the London Eye, Alton Towers and Madame Tussauds cast a spell over investors today during its long-awaited debut on the London stock market.

Merlin Entertainments, which operates 99 attractions in 22 countries and drew 54 million visitors last year, was priced near the top end of expectations at £3.2 billion, before rising another 6% in conditional dealings.

Fresh from the success of the Royal Mail share offer, retail investors took 12.5% of the shares on offer in the market's latest high-profile flotation.

Those who applied for the minimum £1,000 got all they applied for, while those wanting more received £1,000-worth plus 55% of the remaining amount they applied for. Shareholders will be entitled to a 30% discount on either two adult Merlin annual passes or o ne family Merlin annual pass.

Private equity owners Blackstone and CVC sold a chunk of their shares, as well as Kirkbi, the Danish family-owned investment company which owns the Lego and Legoland trademarks and 75% of the Lego Group.

Kirkbi has retained a significant shareholding, with a stake of just under 30%, while Blackstone held 22.6% and CVC owned 13.1% at the start of trading today. Unconditional dealings will begin on Wednesday.

The offer of 30% of Merlin's shares raised an initial £957 million for the company and its selling shareholders. Shares began trading at 315p.

Merlin is the latest high-profile firm to list on the London market, following recent debuts by Royal Mail and estate agency chain Foxtons.

The company, formed in 1999, made a previous attempt to float the business in 2010 but was thwarted by market conditions.

It generated revenues of more than £1 billion last year and is Europe's leading visitor attraction operator and the second largest globally after Walt Disney. Other sites include Legoland Parks, Chessington World of Adventures and Warwick Castle.

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