AIM pioneer may seek Far East stock market listing
A health club chain, which was the first in its sector to have a listing on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), is the centre of press reports that it will be seeking a full stock market listing in the Far East.
Although Fitness First started as a single club in Bournemouth, Dorset, in 1993, it now has 160 clubs in the UK, including a number in the Manchester area, with more than 400,000 members throughout the country. However, it has a total of 550 branches worldwide with outlets in Europe, Australia, India and other parts of Asia.
The AIM float in 1996 was the start of its rapid expansion with the corporate finance capital raising allowing it to push into Europe in 1998 and then in 2000 to start its Asian operations.
In 2003 Fitness First was taken into private ownership with Cinven, a UK private equity house as the major shareholder. Two years later, it was acquired by pan-European private equity group BC Partners for £812m and is now the largest health club group in the world.
BC Partners has been active in developing the European buyout market for more than 20 years and among its recent flotations are French care home operator Medica and Spanish travel booking service Amadeus.
Press speculation has priced a stock market listing for Fitness First at more than £1 billion and, possibly, up to £2 billion. Analysts believe that because the business is growing fastest in the Far East a placing in Hong Kong, Singapore or Shanghai early in 2011 may gain a greater response from investors.