Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line joined its larger local competitors on Wall
Street Friday in a strong debut.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. raised nearly $447 million in an initial public offering of about 23.5 million shares and saw stocks sail 30 percent in trading.
Shares closed Friday afternoon at $24.79, up $5.79 from the $19 offering price set late Thursday night. That was above the range of $16-$18 that the company had expected.
"I think this was a classically beautiful IPO, albeit relatively small in terms of total dollars," said Roderick McLeod, partner in the management consulting practice McLeod.Applebaum & Partners and a former cruise executive.
In regulatory filings, the company has said it plans to use proceeds from the IPO to reduce debt and pay expenses related to the offering. Norwegian is giving the underwriters a 30-day option to buy up to an additional 3.5 million shares.
Previously, the company was privately held in a partnership of Genting Hong Kong, with 50 percent of the cruise line, and private equity firms Apollo Management and TPG. Genting Hong Kong is a subsidiary of gambling and resort conglomerate Genting Group, which purchased the land currently occupied by The Miami Herald in 2011 for $236 million.
After the IPO, the three groups own a total of about 88 percent of the company's ordinary shares.
Norwegian, with a fleet of 11 ships and three more on the way by the fall of 2015, has made its name by emphasizing a "freestyle" type of cruising that allows guests to choose from a variety of dining, entertainment and rooming options.
In an interview Friday morning, Norwegian Cruise Line President and CEO Kevin Sheehan said that the timing was right for the offering.
"It just seemed like a very logical time: We're into 2013, we've got these beautiful new ships coming out soon and the marketplace is very excited about them," he said. "The locomotive is moving and we're at the tipping point with the brand."
As the industry grows by just about 2.5 percent over the next five years, Sheehan said, Norwegian will grow capacity by more than 10 percent.
"It's the double whammy," he said. "Lower growth in the future with a phenomenal set of assets."
He said the benefits of going public include raising capital, allowing the company to strengthen its balance sheet and putting it in the same playing field as its competitors. Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise ship company, and rival Royal Caribbean Cruises are both publicly traded. Carnival closed up about a percent at $38.58 Friday, while Royal Caribbean dropped just over a percent to $36.90.
"Now we're out there and people can look at our results and the analysts can talk about us freely," he said.
The launch capped years of attempts by Norwegian to go public, all abandoned for economic reasons.
Miami cruise expert Stewart Chiron, CEO of CruiseGuy.com, said the timing was good, with an industry performing well and a vastly improved company.
"I'm glad they finally got it done," he said. "This was by far one of the important milestones that they wanted to cross."
McLeod remembers an effort when he was president and chief operating officer at Norwegian that coincided with the stock market crash in October of 1987. He has also worked in senior positions at Royal Caribbean Cruises and Carnival Corp.
"I think we've all kind of known this was coming eventually and some of us have known it's coming for 25 years," McLeod said. "It's never too late to do the right thing; this is the right thing for them to do."
The move is smart, McLeod said, for several reasons.
"In addition to improving their leverage, reducing their debt, this expands their strategic options," he said. "This is a currency, and that can work for them in lots of different ways."
This report was supplemented with information from the Associated Press.
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