Merlin revives listing plans as sales hit £1bn

Madame Tussaud’s new Emma Watson wax figure
Madame Tussaud’s new Emma Watson wax figure

MERLIN Entertainments, the world’s second largest theme-park owner, said yesterday it is reconsidering a listing in either London or New York by 2014, after reporting a record turnover of £1bn yesterday.

The private-equity backed group, which owns attractions including Madame Tussauds, Legoland and the London Eye, said it is yet to appoint advisers but is “actively considering” a float after volatile market conditions forced it to shelve plans in 2010.

Chief executive Nick Varney said its preference would be for a London listing but said “it is not our only option”. He described the US market as “alive and kicking” but said he was also encouraged by signs of life in the UK, after the IPOs of Crest Nicholson and Countrywide.

Varney said the group has been meeting with analysts and institutional investors “to get them familiar with the company” and to counter some of the negative perceptions around private equity-backed businesses. Private equity firms gathered a reputation during the credit boom for gearing up buy-outs with cheap debt, complicating the process of selling them back to public markets.

Promethean World is one notable example. The maker of educational devices, which was floated by Apax Partners in 2010 at 200p, is worth a mere 17p today.

Varney added: “My feeling is sentiment is changing and there is a more receptive outlook on IPOs and IPOs of private equity backed business.”

His comments came as Merlin reported a 15 per cent jump in revenues to £1bn in 2012 despite what Varney described as the “biggest set of external challenges” in his two-year career at Merlin.

Operating profit rose 16.5 per cent to £258m as expansion in the US and Asian markets helped mitigate the impact of the Eurozone crisis, the wet weather and the London Olympics.

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