Merlin’s magical results mean IPO could happen

Steve Dinneen
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Merlin Entertainments is ready to make a sensational U-turn and resurrect its shelved flotation plans.

The change of heart follows the release of tub thumping results by the London Eye owner, with Ebitda shooting up 16.6 per cent last year to £238.6m.

Merlin’s revenue for 2009 rose 16.1 per cent to £769m, translating to 9.4 per cent on a constant currency basis.

Nick Varney, the chief executive of Merlin, said like-for-like sales rose 12.9 per cent to £720.2m, or 6.4 per cent on a constant currency basis. The total visitor numbers to tourist attractions including Madame Tussauds and Legoland shot up 9.7 per cent to 38.5m.

The company, which is 48 per cent owned by Blackstone, was forced to pull an initial public offering worth £2bn last month after failing to woo investors.

It followed a humiliating capitulation by travel firm Travelport, which pulled its £2bn IPO just days earlier, and was joined by New Look, which scrapped a planned £1.6bn listing the same week.

The domino effect sent jitters throughout the IPO market, with the shadow of doubt cast over planned IPOs by firms including Ocado and Supergroup. But the market seems to have regained its sea legs and representatives from Supergroup and Ocado are now bullish about their listings.

A Merlin spokesman told City A.M.: “We are looking at various options and an IPO remains a favoured one. We will be guaging the market and investor appetite carefully.”

Varney said: “A float certainly remains a very, very big option for us. Should we choose that option we will be in a good position to do so. We have a clear and proven strategy to develop a high-growth business.”