Upswing in markets puts Merlin back on IPO track

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The Independent Online

Merlin Entertainments, the private equity-owned operator of attraction parks, held the door open to a potential flotation later this year as it revealed that it was on track for another record performance in 2010.

The operator of the London Eye and Alton Towers withdrew plans for a £2bn initial public offering (IPO) last month after potential investors were spooked by the volatility of the equity markets.

But yesterday Nick Varney, the chief executive of Merlin, which is owned by Blackstone, said: "We have made no secret that an IPO is one of the options for Merlin."

In the same week in February, Blackstone also pulled the float of its airline ticketing business, Travelport, but it is not alone. Of the 62 IPOs launched since 1 December 2009 globally, 32 have been cancelled, including that of the fashion retailer New Look.

Mr Varney's comments came as Merlin posted a 16.6 per cent rise in ongoing earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) to £238.6m for the year to 26 December 2009. The Madame Tussauds operator said it was the ninth consecutive year of "double-digit" historical Ebitda earnings growth. Its like-for-like revenues jumped by 12.9 per cent to £720.2m.

Mr Varney said 2010 would surpass last year. "We have new developments in place in all our attractions which will ensure we continue to deliver memorable experiences for our many millions of customers and keep us on track for another year of growth."

Merlin plans to open LegoLands in Florida, US, and Malaysia in 2011 and 2012. It added that the total number of visitors to its attractions, including LegoLand and the Sea Life London Aquarium, rose 9.7 per cent to 38.5 million in 2009. Group revenues rose 16.1 per cent, although they were up by 9.4 per cent at constant currency.