Red signal for float as Trainline is sold to private equity

 

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The Independent Online

The planned stock market float of thetrainline.com, Britain’s biggest rail-ticketing company, was pulled yesterday as the private equity giant KKR paid more than £500m for the business.

The deal comes just two weeks after the owner, Exponent, announced its intention to  list the business. It is also a blow to the investment banks Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Cazenove and Numis, which were lead advisers on the float. Their fees are likely to be hugely reduced.

It is understood that KKR came in with an offer that was above the likely float value and allows Exponent to make a full exit. The private equity firm  has spent several years trying to offload the business, in which it has had a controlling stake in since 2006.

Clare Gilmartin, chief executive of thetrainline.com, said: “Trainline has achieved a lot during our eight years working alongside Exponent to develop the business, and we are well positioned to capitalise on great growth opportunities driven by the systemic shift to online in rail and the step-change in mobile and e-fulfilment, as well as international opportunities.

“In KKR we have found a partner that can support our expansion with capital, operational resources and access to its global network.”

Exponent bought thetrainline.com for £160m from a consortium of Virgin, National Express and Stagecoach and almost sold it six years later to a US consortium. However, the deal collapsed.

Thetrainline.com is the latest in a long line of companies being switched from a listing to a sale, including Travelex, RAC and M&M Direct, which all scrapped floats last year.

The so-called dual-track process – where a company looks at a listing and a potential sale at the same time – has increased in popularity, especially after the market started to reach saturation point given the high number of companies going public last year.

Exponent will continue with plans to list its plant-equipment group HSS Hire, with a price range set towards the lower end of expectations  between 210p and 262p a share. The mid-point value would be £365m, well below the hoped-for £600m.

Thetrainline.com makes its money by taking a cut of ticket sales from railway operators, and by providing digital services. Bosses said it will grow due to increased rail passenger numbers in the UK and plans for European expansion.

It revealed £1.4bn of ticket sales last year, driven by its growing mobile business.

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