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Tarsus exhibitions to go private for £668m

Charterhouse private equity (until last year the majority owner of French exhibitions group Comexposium) has made an agreed bid of £668m (including the assumption of debt) to take the UK quoted Tarsus Group private. The price is said to be 17 x  EBITDA of the last two years, although one analyst (suggesting the possibility of a counter bid) pointed out that it might be “just” 12.25 x EBITDA forecast for 2019. Tarsus Group, which is registered in Ireland, operates more than 150 exhibitions in the US, South America, China, South East Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, in sectors including aviation, medical, labels and packaging, travel, housewares and automotive. Its flagship brands including Labelexpo, Connect and the Dubai Airshow. It also owns the US-based Trade Show News Network (TSNN), claimed to be the most widely-used events database with some 130k registered web users.

The company was founded 21 years ago by its chairman Neville Buch, a former investment banker and boss of Blenheim Exhibitions (acquired by UBM for £600m in 1996) from which many members of the Tarsus senior team came. The highly-rated Doug Emslie will continue as CEO under private equity ownership. The deal can be expected to increase the pressure for the £36bn RELX data-tech group to sell its highly profitable, £1.1bn-revenue Reed Exhibitions division which operates 500 events worldwide and was the global market leader until Informa acquired UBM last year. At the Tarsus bid-level, Reed could be worth £4-5bn.

Announcement of the Tarsus buy-out today pushed up the shares of exhibitions group ITE by 5%, valuing the company at £575m. One analyst speculated that the Blackstone-owned Clarion Events might now bid for Tarsus, although most insiders expect the next big exhibitions deal to be the sale of the privately-owned, Belgium-based EasyFairs, perhaps later in 2019. The whole clutch of UK and US private equity firms who have been rotating through trade shows this past few years are all waiting for the sign that Reed Exhibitions is on the way.