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Czech conglom Bonton going public

PRAGUE — The Czech entertainment conglomerate Bonton is expected to announce today that it has cho-sen the U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley to handle its initial public stock offering.

The sale of stock is expected to raise as much as $50 million for the expanding company. Bonton founder and chairman of the board Martin Kratochvil will retain his stake in the company, currently at 16%, which makes him the company’s largest single shareholder.

Bonton has been behind two groundbreaking ventures in Central Europe: the first multiplex and the first music megastore in the region.

One third of the company was sold in a private placement in October 1994, with the understanding that the com-pany would begin trading publicly within two years. The IPO will likely occur in the fall. Bonton will likely list first in Prague, with a second international listing possible.

The private placement raised $10 million, through sales to mutual funds, including two of the investment banks that were bidders for the Bonton IPO contract, ING Barings and CS First Boston.

Bonton co-presidents Mick Hawk and Zdenek Kozak conducted negotiations for bankers with eight candidates over the past four months.

CS First Boston was seen as having the inside track, and its loss to Morgan Stanley comes as a surprise, especially as the head of the Czech branch of CS First Boston sat on the Bonton Board of Directors for the past 2 years. Fur-thermore, Morgan Stanley is without a Prague office.

Kratochvil said that CS First Boston was the first in line, but said Morgan Stanley, which he called “the Rolls Royce of investment banks,” was ultimately more impressive.

The Galaxie multiplex, of which Bonton owns more than 40%, celebrates its first anniversary on April 4. It now attracts 10% of the country’s entire box office. Bontonland, the megastore, opened its doors at a prestigious address in central Prague in early September.

Hawk also negotiated a deal with Lowry Mays, CEO of the U.S. radio company Clear Channel Communications, to expand Bonton’s radio broadcasting activities. Bonton currently owns a pop rock Prague station, but plans to build up a network of up to 12 stations throughout the Czech and Slovak Republics.

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