New Pinewood Stakeholder: Profitability of U.K. Studios Should Be "Significantly Higher"

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The last time activist investment fund Crystal Amber owned a sizable stake in the studios in 2010 it tried to oust its chairman.

Pinewood, the famed U.K. studio facilities operator that has recently welcomed the likes of Star Wars' Sith lords, The Avengers' next major antagonist and possibly even James Bond's Blofeld himself, may soon face off with an old nemesis of its own.

Crystal Amber, an activist U.K. investment fund that once owned more than a quarter of Pinewood and publicly tried to oust its chairman, Michael Grade, has once again acquired a stake in the company and is looking to push for higher financial returns.

Pinewood issued shares to raise $44 million (£30 million) last month, which the fund used to make its new purchase.

Crystal Amber manager Richard Bernstein confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that its new stake in Pinewood amounted to 4 percent but that it was "looking to build" on that. The Daily Telegraph first reported the share purchase.

Bernstein also confirmed to THR that he was planning to meet Pinewood management. "We believe that both the level of profitability and return on capital employed could and should be significantly higher," he said. "We look forward to re-engaging with management."

Bernstein last engaged with Pinewood in 2010, when Crystal Amber held a near-29 percent stake in the business. At the time, he launched a public campaign to oust its longstanding chairman, TV veteran Grade, claiming he had "neither the desire nor the wherewithal to deliver [for shareholders]" and that the company deserved "better stewardship."

However, the bid failed to move Grade, and eventually Crystal Amber sold its stake in 2011 to The Peel Group, which remains the majority shareholder in Pinewood with a 71.1 percent stake.

Since then, Pinewood has pursued a major $300 million expansion project, which would almost double its studio size with the addition of 100,000 square meters of facilities. After a lengthy battle with the local council, the development began at the start of 2015.

The studio has also recently benefited hugely from the U.K.'s attractive tax breaks system, becoming the home for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the first spinoff, being shot later this year, alongside other major Disney titles that include Cinderella, The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Alice in Wonderland 2. The 24th‎ James Bond movie, Spectre, also is currently shooting there.

Last November, Pinewood Shepperton — now known as the Pinewood Group — posted improved financial results for the first half of 2014, ending Sept. 30. Its six-month after-tax profit of $6.0 million (£3.8 million) was up 11.8 percent from the year-ago period, while its revenue of $60.4 million (£38.5 million) was up 6.4 percent.

Bernstein wouldn't confirm whether he would seek to remove Grade from his post as chairman again. Pinewood told THR that the company had no comment on the situation.

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