Midday Report: Blackstone-Owned SeaWorld Readies IPO

Killer Whale
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SeaWorld looks to make a big splash on Wall Street: The theme park operator is going public, probably launching its initial public offering this month.

It will offer 20 million shares, expecting to price them between $24-27 apiece.

The company operates 11 theme parks. There are the three SeaWorlds, located in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio, and it also owns Busch Gardens, Sesame Place and several other water-themed parks.

Its kingdom includes 67,000 animals, the most famous of which are the Shamu killer whales.

The company is owned by Blackstone Group (BX), the world's largest private-equity firm. It bought SeaWorld in 2009 from Anheuser-Busch (BUD) for $2.7 billion.

The initial pricing numbers value SeaWorld at about $5 billion dollars.

Blackstone opted for the IPO instead of selling SeaWorld. Both Apollo Global (APO) and Onex Corp. (OCX) had reportedly offered to buy the company.

And the theme park business has been profitable. SeaWorld's earnings surged to more than $77 million dollars last year, up from $19 million in 2011. Revenue rose 7 percent to $1.4 billion.

The IPO is expected to raise about $500 million. Half will go to Blackstone, half to SeaWorld. It will use the money to reduce debt. Blackstone will continue to be the majority shareholder.

And theme park stocks have been doing quite well. Six Flags (SIX) has soared 60 percent over the past year and Cedar Fair (FUN) has gained 41 percent.

Blackstone launched a successful IPO last month: Pinnacle Foods (PF). It's the maker of Duncan Hines, Birds Eye and other well-known brands. Its stock has jumped 20 percent since it was launched late last month.

But there are risks. SeaWorld notes in its SEC filing that economic conditions can hurt attendance, which declined in 2009 and 2010 due to the global economic crisis.

In addition, SeaWorld also noted the risks of featuring animals. In February 2010, a trainer was killed by a whale during a performance.

But SeaWorld is a popular and profitable brand that will probably draw a fair amount of interest when it debuts here at the NYSE.

–Produced by Drew Trachtenberg

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