Madame Tussauds owner Merlin bought by Lego family and Blackstone in $10b deal

Figures at Madame Tussauds Singapore. An investor group had agreed to buy Merlin Entertainments Plc, the operator of Madame Tussauds wax museums and Legoland resorts, for £6 billion (S$10.29 billion).
Figures at Madame Tussauds Singapore. An investor group had agreed to buy Merlin Entertainments Plc, the operator of Madame Tussauds wax museums and Legoland resorts, for £6 billion (S$10.29 billion).PHOTO: ST FILE

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Merlin Entertainments Plc, the operator of Legoland resorts and Madame Tussauds wax museums, is close to being acquired in a £6 billion (S$10.29 billion) buyout, the Financial Times reported.

The deal is backed by Blackstone Group LP, Canadian pension fund CPPIB and the Danish family that controls the Lego toy empire, according to the newspaper, which cited people close to the matter.

Investors have pushed the company to consider a buyout, saying it would be worth more in private hands. ValueAct Capital, which also lobbied for change at Britain's Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc, said last month in an open letter to Merlin's board that it needs to spend more on new hotels and Legoland parks and that's hard to do as a public company.

Terrorist attacks and Brexit have hampered Merlin Entertainments' growth potential. In addition to operating Legoland and Madame Tussauds, it oversees attractions such as Peppa Pig World of Play and the Coca-Cola London Eye.

The transaction, expected to be announced as soon as Friday morning, is likely to value Merlin's shares at around 460 pence each, the Financial Times said. That represents a premium of more than 16 per cent to its closing price of 395 pence on Thursday.

Merlin, Blackstone and Kirkbi Invest A/S - the investment vehicle of Lego's billionaire founding family - didn't immediately respond to Financial Times' request for comment. CPPIB declined to comment to the newspaper. Representatives of Merlin and Blackstone also didn't immediately respond to requests for comment by Bloomberg.

BUYOUT FRENZY

A deal may be announced before the market opens in London, but the timing may slip, the Financial Times said.

Takeover speculation has helped propel Merlin's stock in recent months. Shares of the Dorset, England-based company are up 24 per cent this year.

More public companies have been going private, fueled by buyout firms' growing cash reserves. Last year, the number of public-to-private deals hit its highest in more than a decade, according to Bain & Co's annual private equity report.