SHAFAQNA – Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed is to join a €420million (£330million) rescue of Euro Disney, after visiting its French theme park last week. Disneyland Paris, which draws more than two million British visitors a year, secured a rescue deal from its biggest shareholder, the Walt Disney Company, last week that will see new shares issued and some of its crippling debt written off.
Alwaleed is already a 10 per cent shareholder, but has until now remained silent on whether he would continue to back the French operation.
The Walt Disney rescue could have seen his stake cut dramatically unless he invested extra cash himself. His expression of support is seen as a crucial vote of confidence in the ailing French venture.
In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, Alwaleed, who famously sued Forbes magazine for suggesting in its world’s billionaires list that he was worth only $20billion, said: ‘We will fully subscribe to the rights issue because we support France and we support Disney.
‘They will not take our stake. We will maintain 10 per cent,’ he said.
Alwaleed said he had decided to invest in the rescue after spending a day at the Disneyland Paris resort on Tuesday and speaking to Walt Disney’s chief executive Bob Iger.
‘Operationally there is no problem at all. I went to the hotels. I skinned the park, I skinned the hotels, I skinned everything. Meticulous. It is a top-notch tourist destination.’
Disneyland Paris is Europe’s most popular tourist attraction. Last year it had 14.9million visitors, more than the Eiffel Tower and Louvre combined.
Alwaleed said: ‘Two years ago we had 16million visitors to Euro Disney, with half from France. Now it is down to 14 million and most of the loss comes from France. But we are seeing a plateau because revenue was up this quarter.’
British visitors have been critical to keeping the resort open. They are the second most frequent visitors after the French, accounting for 15 per cent in 2013.
Tourist attraction: Last year Disneyland Paris had 14.9million visitors
The Walt Disney Company has a 40 per cent stake, with 10 per cent owned by Alwaleed, 5 per cent owned by fund manager Invesco and the rest floated on the Paris Euronext exchange.
All share-holders will be able to take part in the rights offer but Disney has said it will buy the shares of investors who do not participate.
Disneyland Paris opened in 1992 and racked up a net loss of £598million in a year. It has only turned a profit in eight of the past 22 years and last year lost £61.5million.
Disney will swap €600million of Euro Disney’s debt for equity and will defer repayments on its own loans to Euro Disney until 2024 as well as issuing new shares.
Source : http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/