Goldman buys Uni's Japan park

Bank leads $1.2 bln bid for 61.2% of Osaka park operator

TOKYO -- USJ Co., the operator of a struggling Universal Studios theme park in Japan, on Thursday said it is being sold for $1.2 billion to a consortium led by Goldman Sachs.

The deal, the biggest such buyout in Japan in a year, was made at a 28.5% premium to USJ's share price before the offer became public.

Customer numbers at the Osaka theme park, which features rides based on the movies "Spider-Man" and "Jurassic Park," have fallen in the midst of the global financial crisis and its shares have halved in value since 2007.

The new group will upgrade the theme park, including new attractions and characters, the Goldman fund said in a statement.

It said that the theme park faces tough growth prospects due to the global economic slowdown as well as the aging of Japan's population.

Goldman, which holds about 40% of USJ through its fund, said that private equity firm MBK Partners and Owl Creek Asset Management will take stakes in the privatized company.

Goldman said it will offer ¥50,000 per share to buy the remaining 60% of shares and rights by May 21, at a cost of ¥111.2 billion ($1.2 billion).

USJ said in a statement it has agreed to the deal.

That is a premium of ¥11,100 to the shares' closing price Tuesday, the last closing price before Reuters reported an imminent tender offer, and just over half its record high price of 90,900 yen in May 2007.

At the completion of the deal, Goldman said it will own 61.2% of USJ, MBK 23.6% and Owl Creek will have 15.1%. USJ CEO Glenn Gumpel will hold a 0.1% stake.

The new owners may consider mergers and acquisitions as a way for the company to expand into other leisure businesses and Asia markets outside Japan, Goldman said.

Osaka-based USJ was listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in March 2007 but the global economic downturn has blunted Japan's usually voracious appetite for cartoon characters and other icons of cute.

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

For the year ending this month, the company expects a net profit of ¥6 billion , down 11.3% from a year earlier.

The deal is the biggest buyout in Japan since Advantage Partners' $2.2 billion purchase of Tokyo Star Bank completed in March last year, Thomson Reuters data showed.