Australian billionaire James Packer is looking to take his Crown Resorts casino business private, according to local media reports.
On Wednesday, the Australian Financial Review reported that Packer had been conducting talks with potential partners regarding taking certain assets of the ASX-listed Crown private. Packer, who currently owns 53% of Crown via the Packer family’s Consolidated Press Holdings investment vehicle, has reportedly yet to confirm his plans with other Crown directors.
Packer is believed to have enlisted the help of UBS Australia and Deutsche Bank as advisors in the talks with potential investment partners. The AFR claimed Packer had approached TPG Capital, one of the hedge funds that took Caesars Entertainment private in the last decade. However, TPG reportedly balked at joining Packer’s privatization push, perhaps as a reaction to how badly TPG has been burned since Caesars became the hot financial mess it is today.
Crown’s shares lost one-fifth of their value this year thanks to the ongoing revenue slump in Macau, which sharply reduced the returns from Crown’s one-third stake in the Melco Crown Entertainment joint venture. Packer appears convinced that Macau will eventually return to its money-machine status and thus views Crown shares as undervalued.
Packer may have been trying to buy the dip but the privatization reports sent Crown’s shares up 14%, its biggest one-day gain since 2009. Fortunately, Packer already indulged in a bit of bottom feeding by boosting his Crown stake by 22m shares in November, a purchase worth around $260m.
Packer stepped down as Crown’s chairman in August but stayed on as senior executive director while shifting his focus to projects in Crown’s development pipeline. These projects, including the $2b Crown Sydney and the $1.9b Alon project in Las Vegas, helped boost Crown’s debt by 47% in its most recent fiscal year.