Weak demand forces Springer Nature to cancel 3.2 billion euro float at last minute

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Springer Nature, the publisher of science magazines Nature and Scientific American, cancelled its 3.2 billion euro (2.8 billion pound) stock market flotation planned for Wednesday on weak investor demand, dealing a heavy blow to Germany’s vibrant IPO season.

Springer Nature cited “market conditions” as the reason for pulling the listing in Frankfurt at the last minute, adding it may revisit the plans for an initial public offering (IPO) at a later stage.

A banker close to the deal said that many investors had become cautious after the poor performance of a number of European IPOs.

"Ceva Logistics CEVAL.S last week was a disaster, DWS DWSG.DE has dropped (since its March IPO) and a number of smaller IPOs have been pulled," this person said.

Concerns about rising interest rates and equity valuations remaining near all-time highs also weighed on sentiment, according to another banker.

“For many investors it’s a decision whether to buy a blue chip or to invest in an IPO,” the banker said. “The new issue will have less liquidity. Given the poor performance of other IPOs, orders for Springer have been somewhat smaller than expected.”

In a sign of the poor demand Springer Nature order books had taken unusually long - nine days - to be covered and the bookrunners guided investors on Tuesday to expect an issue price at the bottom of a 10.50-14.50 euro offer range.

Until the past few weeks, Frankfurt had enjoyed a run of strong market debuts this year, including Siemens' medical technology unit Healthineers SHLG.DE.

Springer Nature had planned to sell roughly 113 million new shares worth 1.2 billion euros, while private equity co-owner BC Partners would have held onto its stake given the low price, people close to the matter said. BC Partners declined to comment.

Springer Nature initially offered shares worth up to 1.6 billion euros in the IPO. To boost demand, publisher Holtzbrinck, Springer Nature’s majority owner, double its order for new shares to 200 million euros.

But in another deterrent to investors, the smaller-than-expected size also meant that Springer Nature would have been unlikely to qualify soon for inclusion in Germany's midcap stock index .MDAXI, which represents companies with the most liquid and largest free float after the country's 30 blue-chips.

Springer Nature was formed in 2015 through the merger of Holtzbrinck’s Macmillan Science and Education unit with BC Partners’ Springer business, which publishes scientific, technical and medical books and journals.

The tie-up was designed to make it easier to compete with the likes of RELX REL.L and Informa INF.L as publishers increasingly shift to digital content and readers use smartphones and tablets to access information.

The entire proceeds from the listing would have been used to cut Springer Nature’s net debt by a third. That currently stands at roughly 3 billion euros. The company had been targeting leverage of 3.5 times EBITDA after the IPO.

At the expected issue price the post-money enterprise value of Springer Nature would have been 9.4 times its 2017 core earnings, a discount to European peers that trade at multiples of 13-14 times.

“That’s a large discount. But not enough,” a banker said. “Growth stories like Africa’s Vivo get attention, but for a defensive stock like Springer you would need more.”

Springer Nature, which says it is the largest English language academic book publisher with 13,000 new books every year, reported adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of 551 million euros on revenues of 1.64 billion euros in 2017.

Springer Nature is a separate company from German publisher Axel Springer SPRGn.DE.

Reporting by Arno Schuetze and Douglas Busvine; Editing by Susan Fenton