October 30, 2014 / 6:59 PM / 6 years ago

Exclusive - Owners of Spain's Parques Reunidos ponder $2.6 billion sale: sources

LONDON (Reuters) - The private equity owners of Parques Reunidos are sounding out interest for a sale that could value the Spanish zoo, marine and water park operator at about 2 billion euros (1.62 billion pounds), four sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

The company, which is owned by UK-based private equity fund Arle Capital, could come up for sale as soon as the first half of 2015, the sources said.

They cautioned that no banks had been hired as yet and any sale process could still fall through.

Arle Capital declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Parques Reunidos denied the company was for sale.

Madrid-based Parques Reunidos operates 72 sites around the world including Italy’s Mirabilandia, France’s Aquasplash and the Miami Seaquarium, which it bought in July this year.

Parques struggled through the financial crisis as recession-hit consumers cut back on spending. Arle tried to sell the group in 2010 but dropped the process after receiving low bids.

That year, Arle was spun out of failed fund Candover Capital, a leading UK private equity fund which became a high-profile casualty of the financial crisis.

Parques Reunidos runs amusement and theme parks, water parks, marine life centres and zoos in countries including the United States, France and Britain.

Spain has increasingly been touted as an attractive opportunity for private equity as it shows signs of emerging from recession. Its economy minister said in September it would raise growth forecasts for this year and next.

Last year, U.S. buyout firm KKR (KKR.N) bought a 49.9 percent stake in another Spanish amusement park operator, PortAventura, for more than 200 million euros. Italian private equity firm Investindustrial, which first invested in PortAventura in 2009, kept 50.1 percent of the business.

Private equity investment in Spain was about 2 billion euros in the first half of 2014, according to Thomson Reuters data — just shy of 2.5 billion euros in 2013, but a far cry from pre-crisis levels which hit 5.5 billion euros in 2007.

British firm Merlin Entertainments MERL.L, which the sources said was Parques’ nearest peer, is trading at an enterprise value of 10.4 times predicted core earnings, or EBITDA, for the next 12 months.

Additional reporting by Robert Hetz in Madrid; editing by David Clarke

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