ENTERTAINMENT giant Merlin is set to release its annual figures today – and is causing a stir in the City with rumours of it possibly going public.
Merlin is, according to analysts, tipped to report record profits in the region of £350m for 2012 on the back of expansion in the US and Asia.
The company runs the attractions at Blackpool Tower including the Eye and the Dungeon, plus Madame Tussauds and the Sea Life Centre on the Promenade, and has become the second biggest fun park operator in the world after Disney.
It is believed to be eyeing a flotation on the stock market, either in London or New York, which could see the company being worth as much as £3.5bn.
Merlin is currently privately owned and its primary shareholders are the Blackstone Group, Kirkbi, which owns the Lego group from Denmark, CVC Capital Partners and members of the management team.
A company spokesman said today they were not allowed to comment ahead of the official release of the figures but added Merlin had been looking at the possibility of raising finance with an initial stock market listing for a number of years.
The spokesman said: “The company has been talking about this for some time and our chief executive Nick Varney was quoted on this four years ago.
“Nothing has changed.”
Mr Varney has said in the past the firm was trying to get potential investors familiar with the group so that when the time was right to sell shares it would be done “the right way.”
The Poole-based company runs more than 90 attractions across 21 countries, including the London Eye and Sea Life centres at locations as diverse as Loch Lomond, Bangkok, Kansas City and Helsinki and Legoland centres.
In 2011, visitor numbers grew to 46.4 million, but that figure is now believed to have risen in 2012 to more than 50 million.
When last year’s results were released, Mr Varney said: “Our determination to deliver unforgettable experiences for our customers worldwide led to a 13.2 per cent increase in visitor numbers – meaning we welcomed over five million visitors more than ever before, even against the backdrop of the tough economy.
“We will continue to invest for growth under our strategy of growing our brands in a portfolio of attractions balanced by geography, product and demographics.”
Stephen Gregson, corporate finance director at Blackpool-based Moore and Smalley Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors, explained possible reasons for flotation, which means shares of a company are freely available for purchase by investors on the secondary market.
He said: “Businesses will consider listing on a public stock exchange typically because they require significant external investment to grow and because traditional sources of funding, such as debt funding, are either unavailable or unsuitable for their needs.”