James Packer gets $58 million Christmas bonus as tourism group sold

Billionaire James Packer has capped a busy 2011 by agreeing to offload his stake in the tourism business behind the Mt Hotham and Falls Creek ski resorts and Melbourne Aquarium for just over $58 million.

Living and Leisure Australia’s major shareholders – Packer’s Arctic Capital, a Morgan Stanley fund and a Goldman Funds – have agreed to sell their combined 88% stake in the listed company, which owns and operates nine leisure attractions in the Asia Pacific as well as management contracts in Dubai.

This is the second sale for Packer this month, following the sale of high-end natural skin care group Jurlique for $300 million to Japan’s fourth-largest skincare group at the start of December. Packer’s late father Kerry bought into the company nine years ago for $25 million.

Merlin Entertainments Group, the world’s second-largest visitor attraction operator, has agreed to pay $140 million for LLA, or 5.14 cents per listed security. The offer is a 157% premium to LLA’s closing price before the deal was announced.

Merlin says the purchase represents “an important step in our growth strategy for the region which we believe is full of opportunities and prospects for those with the right attractions and expertise”.

“The acquisition of LLA would open up new markets to us and facilitate the continuing rollout of the SEA LIFE, Madame Tussauds, Eye and LEGOLAND brands in the Asia Pacific region, complementing our existing strength in Western Europe and North America,” it said.

Merlin is privately run, and its primary shareholders are the Blackstone Group and CVC Capital Partners. Its assets include the Sydney Aquarium, WILD LIFE Sydney, Sydney Tower Eye and SKYWALK at Sydney Tower Eye, WILD LIFE Hamilton Island and Oceanworld Manly. It also has assets in New Zealand and Madame Tussauds in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Bangkok.

LLA is an offshoot of the failed property business MFS, and recently posted a small profit after years of losses. In addition to the Melbourne assets, it owns Underwater World in Queensland and the Otway Fly in Victoria.

The deal is contingent on Foreign Investment Review Board acceptance.

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