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Merlin to go private in $7.5 billion deal with Lego family and Blackstone

Merlin to go private in $7.5 billion deal with Lego family and Blackstone
FILE PHOTO: Tourists line up to buy tickets for Madame Tussauds beside a wax figure of soccer player C. Ronaldo in Hong Kong, China August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip -
Bobby Yip(Reuters)
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By Alistair Smout and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen

LONDON/COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Madame Tussauds owner Merlin <MERL.L> said on Friday it had agreed to be acquired by the investment vehicle of Lego’s founding family and private equity firm Blackstone Group LP <BX.N> in a $7.5 billion deal.

The move, one of the biggest private equity deals in Europe in recent years, will allow Merlin to satisfy shareholder demands to invest in its assets and deliver on growth plans.

The deal to buy Merlin Entertainments, which also operates Legoland theme parks around the world, values Merlin shares at 455 pence each, giving the firm an enterprise value for the company and its debt of 5.91 billion pounds ($7.49 billion).

Merlin shares, which closed at 395 pence on Thursday, rose 14% on the announcement.

The deal comes as buyout firms are flush with record amounts of cash to invest.

Kirkbi, the private investment company of Lego’s Kirk Kristiansen family, will own 50% of Merlin, while Blackstone and Canadian pension fund CPPIB will own the rest.

“The Merlin independent directors believe this offer represents an opportunity for Merlin shareholders to realise value for their investment in cash at an attractive valuation,” Merlin Chairman John Sunderland said in a statement.

“We are therefore unanimously recommending it to our shareholders,” he said, adding that the unsolicited approach followed the rejection of several proposals by the investment consortium.

The deal is expected to complete in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Merlin, which also operates the Alton Towers theme park in Britain, listed in 2013. Last month, activist investor ValueAct Capital urged Merlin to take itself private given the level of investment needed in the company.

The consortium said it recognised “significant, long-term investment is required”, a process that will be easier when Merlin is no longer a listed company.

“We believe that this group of investors has the unique collective resources necessary to equip Merlin… for their next phase of growth,” said Soren Thorup Sorensen, chief executive of Kirkbi, which holds around a 30% stake in Merlin already.

A source familiar with the matter said the initial, unsolicited offer from the consortium had valued the firm at 425 pence and talks about a takeover predated the ValueAct letter.

(Additional eporting by Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru and Josephine Mason in London; Editing by Bill Rigby and Edmund Blair)

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