Goldman Taking Japan’s Universal Studios Private

TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. bank Goldman Sachs (GS.N) will bid for USJ Co Ltd (2142.T) this month to take the operator of Japan’s Universal Studios theme park private, three people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Goldman, which has a history of taking stakes in Japanese companies to turn them around and sell at a profit, is now targeting USJ in a deal that could be worth more than $610 million.

Shares of USJ, which runs a park based on movies such as Spiderman and Jurassic Park, turned positive after Reuters reported the news and finished up 4.6 percent at 40,700 yen.

Osaka-based USJ is about 40 percent-owned by Crane Holdings Ltd, a Goldman-related fund. Crane will join with two other firms to buy the remaining 60 percent, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is not public.

The tender offer could be announced as early as this week, the sources said. The deal could cost more than 60 billion yen ($610 million), given that USJ’s current market value is about 82.6 billion yen and assuming a premium of about 10 billion yen.

A spokesman for USJ said no such decision has been made. A spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs in Tokyo declined to comment.

Going private allows companies to restructure their operations under the guidance of like-minded shareholders and without the constant pressure that comes with being a publicly listed company.

USJ listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in March 2007, but has since been hurt by the global economic downturn, which has even blunted Japan’s voracious appetite for cartoon characters and other icons of cute.

Attendance at the park declined 5 percent during the nine months to the end of December from a year earlier, even as USJ stepped up efforts to bring in more visitors.

Net income totaled 7.4 billion yen on a non-consolidated basis, down nearly 8 percent from a year earlier. Sales came to 53.6 billion yen, a decline of about 7 percent.

USJ shares have lost more than half their value since hitting a record high of 90,900 yen in May 2007.

(Reporting by Taro Fuse; Writing by David Dolan)