Now Cedar Fair's looking for a buy-out
...And now, the aftermath of Cedar Fair's purchase last year of Paramount Parks.
The amusement park operator has shopped itself to private equity firms, according to a story this morning in the New York Post.
Among the firms approached was the Blackstone Group, which helped fund the creation of Merlin Entertainment Group, which combined Legoland with Madame Tussaud's. Blackstone also holds a stake, with NBC Universal, in the Universal Orlando resort.
The private equity firms, including Blackstone, have been hestitant to buy, according to the Post, citing the presumed cost of the deal. The Post reported that Cedar Fair, which paid $1.2 billion in cash for Paramount Parks last year, has a market capitalization of $1.5 billion and $1.8 billion in debt. Using a formula based on Cedar Fair's current cash flow, the paper estimates the firm could elicit a price of $3.3 billion to $4 billion.
Why sell? Well, the deal would be contingent on a pledge to retain Cedar Fair's current management team. (Which preserves their jobs in a competitive out-of-home entertainment market.) Plus, the infusion of cash would help the company handle its debt without falling into a pre-Snyder-Six Flags-type problem of having to sacrifice capital expansion.
I'm sort of surprised at this, but not really. Cedar Fair has expanded a lot since 2000 with the purchase of Michigans Adventure, Geauga Lake, and the Paramount Parks. They've taken on a lot of debt really quickly...(cough six flags cough). While I'm glad to see the brand expanding, I think it's gone maybe a little too quickly. The Paramount park chain was a golden oppurtunity, and they capitalized on it...which stretched them a lot. What this buyout does is provide the company with more capital to pay down their debt quickly and without possibly hindering the improvement of the parks. The question is this...will anyone buy? 3.5 billion dollars is a lot of money for a park chain, even a proven moneymaker like this one. The clause about the management staying is what relieves me. The management core has for the most part done a good job, and Nobody wants a bunch of businessmen who know nothing about entertainment running a park chain, least of all the one that immediately surrounds my area. Even if there are no buyers, it doesn't spell doom for the company. I just think they are looking for debt relief without having to scale back expansion and improvement.
I think they'd better hurry before Wall Street figures out the cash flow!
Living in Ohio and growing up in Cleveland and living now in Dayton, I have a lot of memories and visits to the olde Cedar Point of the 1960's. (I watched the moon landing in 1969 at the Hotel Breakers TV set) But watching what Paramount did with Kings Island and visiting Carowinds and Kings Dominion in the early 1990's, I saw the successful entertainment tie in with the movies and cartoon characters, and live entertainment. I did pay extra for a season pass to Kings Island and all the other Cedar Fair parks, but not extra to get the water parks. (My kids and grandkids are in LA) I visited Knott's Berry Farm last month and did see that this park needs upgrades to the areas such as retail inside the park and layout to help with the flow of people to various places in the park without getting into a dead end street. Has anyone seen the indoor water parks near Cedar Point and Kings Island? Northern States without year round operations can provide lodging and fun and a theme park next door. Does Cedar Fair have a financial interest in them?
When I read articles about selling to a private equity firm to pay down debt and raise cash it really makes me wonder. Maybe Cedar Fair believes it, but I'm pretty skeptical of that scenario. Private equity firms rely heavily on debt to make their deals. They get money from investors and the way they maximize the return on that money is to use as little of it per deal as possible. The more of the purchase price they can pay with debt, the better the return will be when they sell the company.
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