Who's ready for a spin on the markets? - Business Analysis & Features - Business - The Independent

Who's ready for a spin on the markets?

Our City writers pick out some of the names that could float on the stock market in coming months

Bankers have many reasons to be miserable, more than a few of which they brought upon themselves. One is the moribund state of the market for initial offerings – stock market floats from up-and-coming businesses looking to raise cash from investors and go public.

That means no fees for advising on such deals; which means no bonuses.

Most of the high-profile floats of the last few years have been of gigantic foreign mining shares rather than home-grown talent – though last year did see the (admittedly forced by EU regulators) IPO of Direct Line. The insurer has since defied predictions that it would struggle and has reason to think that 2013 will be better still.

Could 2013 be the year that stock market floats kick back in?

Insurance: Esure

"Calm down, dear" is hardly the kind of statement that gets investment bankers out of bed in the morning. Except, that is, when it comes to Esure, which is widely expected to list on the London Stock Exchange next year.

The company, best known for its adverts featuring Michael Winner, has appointed Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan to oversee the flotation. Founder Peter Wood wants to take the company public in 2013, and shareholder Electra Partners has admitted that Direct Line's IPO has whetted investors' appetite.

Esure, founded in 1999, is one of Britain's largest motor, home and travel insurers. The listing could value it at more than £1bn – significantly more than the £270m it was valued at when Lloyds Banking Group sold a controlling 70 per cent stake for £186m in 2010.

It is unclear what Esure will do about its 49 per cent stake in the comparison site Go Compare. Esure has privately expressed an interest in buying the remaining 51 per cent, but Go Compare's founder, Hayley Parsons, remains an obstacle.

Jamie Dunkley

Internet: Twitter

Though impossible to say for sure, the one American business whose time to go public might come in 2013 is Twitter, which is reportedly expecting to earn some $1bn in revenues by 2014 – and its debut, not Facebook's botched bow before the markets earlier this year, could ultimately define the era of social media.

The task of shepherding the micro-blogging service to market will fall to Dick Costolo (right), the chief executive, and his head of finance, Ali Rowghani, who will want to avoid the too-ambitious pricing tactic that ultimately proved Facebook's undoing earlier this year.

If they can judge the mood right, they have the opportunity to turn Twitter into the social media business of our times. Why? Because while it doesn't have as many users as Facebook (yet), it has become an essential online destination for many and, equally if not more importantly from an economic point of view, found ways to monetise its content, particularly when it comes to mobile phones. It is a lot easier to view sponsored tweets on a mobile phone screen than browsing a Facebook profile, for instance. This matters, as more and more users switch to smaller devices – and use them as their primary route to the web, particularly social media.

Nikhil Kumar

Entertainment: Merlin

Merlin Entertainments, the world's second-biggest theme park operator, blamed stock market volatility for canning a planned £2bn flotation in early 2010. But Nick Varney, chief executive of the operator of the London Eye and Madame Tussauds in the UK, said in March that an IPO either this year or in 2014 was the private equity-backed group's intention. He reportedly said: "It's our aspiration – Merlin's ultimate destiny is to be a public company." Mr Varney added: "Late 2013 or early 2014 is the next window to float the company [but] we would like to see a bit of stability in the market before we test the water."

His comments followed a 12.4 per cent leap in operating profit to £222.5m over the year to 25 December 2011. This was driven by a surge in revenues to £928.4m, boosted by opening new attractions globally and a double-digit uplift in visitor numbers.

While Merlin's backers – Blackstone, CVC, Kirkbi and management – can boast a longstanding growth story, potential investors will be wary of its hefty net debt of £1.21bn.

A possible float by the group will certainly grab attention globally, as it has 94 attractions across four continents.

James Thompson

Banking: Royal Bank of Scotland

Taxpayer-controlled RBS has until the end of 2013 to divest the 315 branches it was ordered to sell by the European Union in return for receiving state aid during its bailout.

Following the collapse of the £1.65bn sale of the branches to Santander in October, RBS is reinviting bidders and preparing for a stock market flotation at the same time. The list of potential bidders appears to have dwindled to just Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Money and the US private equity outfit JC Flowers.

Neither a bid nor a flotation is likely to make anything like the original £1.65bn, with something closer to £1bn more credible.

Williams & Glyn's (as the group might be named if it floats) is profitable and has 1.8 million retail customers as well as 244,000 SME and 1,200 medium-sized corporate clients. Although RBS has already effectively split out the business in terms of IT and processes it does not have its own back office, so it could need a service agreement for the parent company to provide those for the first couple of years. Nor does Williams & Glyn's have its own separate management or board. At the operating level there are a number of good internal candidates who could become chief executive. But finding an untainted banker to chair the business could be a tough call.

Nick Goodway

Payday loans: Wonga

Forget Facebook, Wonga.com could yet prove to be the most controversial dot.com flotation of all time.

An IPO of the payday lender, which charges interest rates of more than 4,000 per cent (APR), has been rumoured for some time. Errol Damelin, chief executive, is likely to want to cash in on the company he cofounded in 2006, while funds for further expansion are being sought.

Private equity backers, including Dawn Capital, chaired by Adrian Beecroft, who authored a report into employment law which recommended that employers be allowed to fire at will, might also welcome the chance to cash in.

Wonga has recently expanded into South Africa, and also operates in Canada. Despite the controversy surrounding its business, it has proved phenomenally successful, as can be seen in its huge marketing budget. However, plans to give watchdogs the power to impose interest rate caps might cramp its style.

Earlier this year there were rumours that the company was looking to the US for a flotation because UK investors were said to be "sceptical" about its growth prospects. They might be just as sceptical about the negative PR impact of appearing on its shareholder register.

James Moore

Cloud computing: Mimecast

London-based Mimecast specialises in email management, archiving and security for more than 6,000 clients. It has been valued at more than $300m (£185m) after a fundraising in September. The South African Peter Bauer, chief executive, who co-founded Mimecast in 2003, says an initial public offering is a "desirable milestone", although he has set no timescale as market conditions need to be right. "We talk internally about developing what we call IPO-grade fitness levels," he explains. The company wants to expand in the US and Mr Bauer (left) has admitted that Mimecast is tempted to float in New York, but a more relaxed and open approach towards tech firms by City regulators has put London "back on the radar for us".

Mr Bauer dismisses suggestions that email is outmoded in the social media age, but says that Mimecast's software helps to make it "much more effective".

Gideon Spanier

Entertainment: Mind Candy

Mind Candy, the company behind the online children's game and brand Moshi Monsters, has been mooted as a potential IPO for the past year, but hopeful bankers think 2013 could be the year. A valuation of more than £200m has been suggested. The group, created by Michael Acton Smith in 2004, has expanded into the US and South America recently, and it even has a hit music album. The game has more than 60 million registered users, and is now translated into languages across the globe.

Mr Acton Smith has always said the best way to grow the business would be via an eventual float. But could London lose out to the US? Lorna Tilbian, media and tech expert at Numis Securities, says: "The disappointing floats of Facebook and Groupon in the US actually make London more attractive for tech IPOs right now. "

Laura Chesters

Housebuilding: McCarthy & Stone

There hasn't been a housebuilding float since the credit crunch struck in 2007 and torpedoed the mortgage market virtually overnight. But 2013 may well be the year all that changes as taxpayer-backed Lloyds and other lenders look to offload McCarthy & Stone, the specialist retirement builder.

Sir Tom Hunter and the Reuben brothers – backed by loans from the ill-fated HBOS – snapped up the firm for a princely £1.1bn near the peak of the boom in 2006. Lloyds picked up the debt when it saved HBOS from nationalisation in 2008. A debt for equity swap in 2009 saw lenders in control and left Lloyds the single biggest shareholder with a 25 per cent stake.

McCarthy & Stone has appointed the bankers Moelis & Co to consider options, including a float. Number-crunchers suggest the timing is right for the owners to cash in. Panmure Gordon's Mark Hughes says: "A year ago, the sector was trading at a 30 per cent discount to its net asset value, but now it's at a slight premium."

A restructured balance sheet makes it difficult to put a value on the float, but it will be much cheaper than the £1.1bn paid six years ago, which was a toppy 2.1 times assets. With an ageing population, the shares may have appeal for institutional investors.

Russell Lynch

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