Stock market listings gather pace

The stock market is continuing to prove a fruitful source of exits for European private equity firms, with a number of IPO announcements emerging from an increasingly long pipeline of potential new issues.

The IPO window appears to have been thrown open, and Europe’s private equity houses are jostling to get a slice of the action.

BC Partners today pointed to an indicative price range of €2.26 to €2.74 per share for the flotation of C&C Group, the Irish drinks company, which lists on the Dublin and London stock exchanges on May 19. This would give the firm a market capitalisation of €800 million at the mid-point of the range.

BC Partners acquired the group, then known as Cantrell & Cochrane, for €734 million in January 1999. It achieved a partial exit in February 2004 when selling Barbero, a wholly owned subsidiary of C&C, to Campari for €150 million.

Meanwhile Findexa, the Norwegian telephone directory publisher owned by a group of investors led by US private equity firm Texas Pacific Group (TPG), has announced plans for an IPO in Oslo by the end of June 2004. The firm is selling NKR2.45 billion of new shares in a transaction that will raise around NKR3.5 billion in all.

TPG acquired around 96 percent of Findexa shares from Norwegian telecom operator Telenor for NKR5.8 billion in November 2001. Analysts currently value Findexa at around $2.2 billion based on a multiple of 7.5 times 2003 EBITDA. 

Austriamicrosystems, a provider of technology for mobile phones, has announced plans to raise between €106 million and €136 million through a listing on the Swiss stock exchange planned for May 17 2004. The firm was acquired by the UK’s Permira for an undisclosed sum in 2000. Permira is expected to retain a stake of around 40 percent in the firm.

The latest developments follow last week’s announcement from Doughty Hanson that it was seeking a £200 million IPO of UK football clothing and equipment business Umbro by the end of June 2004. Doughty led a £90 million management buy-in at Umbro in April 1999.

Smaller companies are also getting a welcome reception from investors. Today trading commences in the shares of Public Recruitment Group (PRG), a UK recruitment and services firm owned by mid-market investor Granville Baird Capital Partners. The listing on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) values PRG at £30 million.

According to its own statistics, the London Stock Exchange saw 39 new issues in March 2004 – five on the main market and 34 on AIM – raising a total of £751 million. This compared with eight new issues – all on AIM – in March 2003.

But according to Chris Hale, head of corporate at London law firm Travers Smith Braithwaite, IPO momentum could soon be brought to a halt. 'There is now more caution because one or two new entrants to the stock market have not performed particularly well and investors now have a more critical attitude. Also, the IPO window generally shuts over the summer and there is some doubt that the second half of the year will be as active as the first. Private equity firms may only have one or two months left to get flotations away.'