Blackstone Group the world's largest private-equity firm with $93.5 billion of assets under management, is in talks with Anheuser-Busch InBev to acquire its theme parks in a deal valued at between $2.5 billion and $3 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The paper said today, citing unnamed sources, that the equity firm is close to a deal to acquire the 10 amusement theme parks operated by Busch Entertainment, which include SeaWorld, Adventure Island, Discovery Cove, Aquatica, Adventure Island in Florida and Sea World in Texas and California.
Busch Entertainment came under the Anheuser-Busch InBev umbrella when Belgium-based InBev, the world's largest brewer, acquired Anheuser-Busch for $52 billion last year. (See: InBev acquires Anheuser-Busch for $52 billion; Budweiser to be flagship brand)
InBev had said in March that it would hive off $7 billion worth of non-core assets to pay down debt and declining profits. (See: AB InBev to shed more assets as profits drop 41 per cent)
Anheuser Busch InBev carries a debt of $56.5 billion in its balance sheet as of March 2009 and the brewer has been since cutting jobs and selling assets to pay down its huge debt.
It has already sold a 20 per cent stake in Chinese brewer Tsingtao to Japan's Asahi this year, raising $667 million, and raised another $100 million from selling the US brewing and distribution business of Labatt, its Canadian beer brand.
It also sold its South Korean brewery to the buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts for $1.8 billion in May, and sold its US can and lid plants to Ball Corporation and Tennents Lager in Scotland and Ireland for $870 million this week.
Blackstone, in seeking to acquire the 10 theme parks, would like to enlarge its portfolio of existing amusement assets that include the UK-based Merlin Entertainment Group, which has Madame Tussauds wax museums, Legoland and the London Eye Ferris wheel under its wing. Blackstone also holds a 50-per cent stake in Universal Studio theme parks in Orlando.
Universal Studios may itself be part acquired by the largest cable operator in the US, Comcast, which is reported to be negotiating with General Electric to acquire the whole or part of NBC Universal for around $35 billion. (See: Despite reports, Comcast denies $35-billion NBC Universal takeover talks)
The Blackstone Group is considering raising a public stock offering for Merlin Entertainment Group and analysts feel that by combining the theme parks of Busch Entertainment with Merlin would make the stock offering more appealing.