Pinewood Agrees to $435 Million Takeover by Investment Fund

Pinewood Studios

The company behind the U.K.'s iconic studio facilities and home to the latest 'Star Wars' films is set to be bought by Venus Grafton.

The Pinewood Group's not-so-secretive search for a buyer looks to have come to an end, with the company famed for its U.K. studio facilities on Thursday announcing that it has agreed to be acquired by property investment fund Venus Grafton in a deal worth $425 million.

The deal has been recommended by Pinewood's two main shareholders — who together own 65 percent of the company — and its directors, with financing arrangements set to be finalized.

"We believe that we have found the right partner for the business and one that shares our long-term vision for the future of the group,” CEO Ivan Dunleavy said of the deal. "Pinewood’s continuing commitment to the U.K.’s creative industries remains as strong as ever. Staff and customers can be assured that in this new strategic partnership our priority will be to not only maintain, but build on the world-class provision of services."

Earlier this month, Pinewood posted higher full-year earnings, thanks to its growing status as the home for some of Disney's biggest tentpoles. Although it may be best known as the studio for the James Bond franchise, the new productions of Star Wars, including recently wrapped Episode VIII and upcoming spinoff Rogue One, saw operating profit hit $17.6 million for the 12 months ending March 31, more than double the previous year. The stand-alone Han Solo Star Wars spinoff is set to start shooting in Pinewood early next year.

Pinewood is Europe's largest provider of studio space. Alongside its studios in Buckinghamshire and Shepperton, England, Pinewood also has facilities in Toronto, Atlanta, Malaysia and the Dominican Republic. It had first revealed its desire for a takeover at the start of the year.

Venus Grafton is a wholly owned subsidiary of PW Real Estate Fund III, launched last year as a spinoff from asset management company Perella Weinberg. It has amassed around $4.3 billion from pension plans and other investors. Its investment advisor is London-based Aermont Capital.

Pinewood unveiled in February that it had launched a strategic review of its “overall capital base and structure,” including a possible sale of the company. It said at the time that it would "evaluate alternative opportunities to maximize value for the company’s shareholders and to build on Pinewood’s successes to date." It concluded: "The board believes that the company, as the world leading studio and production services operator, has significant future growth potential."

Pinewood last year had a stock placement to raise money for phase one of an expansion and enable the company to move to a full stock market listing.

Over the past year or so, Crystal Amber, an activist U.K. investment fund that once owned more than a quarter of Pinewood, also has been pushing for change after again acquiring a stake in Pinewood and saying the company should achieve higher financial returns.

Georg Szalai contributed to this report.

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