Thursday, 29 September 2016

Viking, one of the most interesting stories in cruising, just got more interesting

Viking, one of the most interesting stories in cruising, just got more interesting

Image result for viking cruise

Viking Cruises quietly turned an important corner last week - one that signals the company may be on the cusp of significant growth. 

The transition came through a vehicle called MISA Investments Ltd., which received a $500 million equity infusion from TPG Capital and the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board.

Few in the cruise world recognize MISA Investments as the parent company of Viking Cruises. I know I didn't. But after the deal, 17% of MISA will be owned by Canada's retirement plan and TPG.

The significance of that is that until now, Viking has been a privately held company, financed primarily by European banks.  The new financing represents Viking's first institutional equity.

There's only so far private money can take a cruise line. With the notable exception of MSC Cruises, big cruise companies turn big when they gain access to other people's money.

The latest example of that was Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. It became publicly-held in 2013, but before it went public it benefitted from private equity interest as well.

And TPG Capital was one of two funds (along with Apollo Group) to put money into Norwegian. Their dollars paid off debt and financed new ships at Norwegian, which led to higher cash flows, taking the company to its long-anticipated public offering.

Now TPG could be setting the stage for something similar at Viking. 

"Having been a long-time investor in the cruise industry, we see Viking as a market innovator that has reimagined how people explore the world, with an iconic brand and strong product offering that has significant growth potential," said Paul Hackwell, principal at TPG, in announcing the investment.

Hackwell said he looked forward to working with Viking CEO Torstein Hagen to expand, "both in products offered and regions served."

TPG once held north of 10% of NCLH, but it has harvested its gains and now holds about 5 million shares, or 2.3% according to a 2016 proxy statement

For his part, Hagen said the new equity "will give us great opportunities to grow further, particularly in destination-focused ocean cruising as well as cruising in Europe for Chinese consumers."

In short, one of the most interesting stories in cruising just got more interesting.