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Loews looks at IPO plans

Onex sees highs in possible move

TORONTO — Onex Corp, the new majority owner of Loews Cineplex Entertainment,is considering taking Loews public, Onex chief executive Gerry Schwartz said following the company’s annual general meeting last week.

“We’re going to look at it seriously right now,” Schwartz told reporters after Onex’s AGM, held in Toronto Thursday. The current market is “very receptive” to exhibitors, he said.

Schwartz’s comments came hot on the heels of Wall Street’s healthy response to rival exhibitor Regal Entertainment Group’s IPO, which began trading the same day. Regal’s share price jumped 14% Thursday, although it ebbed a few cents on Friday. “The environment for exhibitors is more positive probably than it has been for five or six years,” Schwartz said. Beyond acknowledging that Onex is investigating an IPO, he declined to provide further details.

Onex, a Toronto-based leveraged buyout firm, and partner Oaktree Capital Management closed a deal in April to acquire for C$320 million ($183.5 million) Loews Cineplex Entertainment, the third-largest exhibition company in North America, with 263 locations and 2,445 screens in North America, Spain and South Korea.

The recent good news marks a welcome change for exhibitors, who have endured several years of fiscal nail-biting in the wake of an expensive expansion blitz in the 1990s.

Movie chains representing about half of all screens in North America were under bankruptcy protection last year. Loews, one of the last to fall, filed for Chapter 11 in February 2001.