General Atlantic to buy majority stake in Argus Media

By Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON, May 23 (Reuters) - U.S. investment firm General Atlantic is to buy a majority stake in oil price reporting agency Argus Media in a deal valuing London-based Argus at nearly 1 billion pounds ($1.45 billion) and making dozens of employees potential millionaires.

Argus, which competes with news and pricing agencies such as McGraw Hill's Platts, OPIS and Thomson Reuters, appointed Bank of America Merrill Lynch to seek outside investors last year after some existing shareholders said they wanted to sell.

Argus said on Monday members of the founding Nasmyth family who own 50 percent of the company will sell all their shares under the deal with General Atlantic but it is not yet clear how many staff shareholders will decide to cash in their holdings.

However, Executive Chairman and Publisher Adrian Binks will continue in the business and retain the "majority of his significant shareholding in the new structure alongside General Atlantic", Argus said in a statement.

The Nasmyth family owns over 18 million shares while Binks owns close to 10 million A and B class shares. He is the only shareholder with B shares, which give additional voting rights.

"It has been an incredible 46 years, with huge growth in the business driven by an exceptional team," the Nasmyth family said in a statement.

Binks told Reuters that staff share and share option holders, which number over a fifth of a workforce of some 750, will have the opportunity of either selling all or some of their shares or remaining invested in the new structure.

"A lot will want to remain invested in the business. You won't find a better place to put your money at the moment," Binks said.

"We are clearly focused on trying to take market share from our main rival (Platts) and we're going to under the new ownership structure be a lot more aggressive and forceful in doing that," Binks said.

"The way we thought of this deal was a partnership ... to provide continuity in the growth strategy but then also to bring focus and a little bit of expertise on how they can grow faster and be more ambitious and more global," General Atlantic Managing Director Gabriel Caillaux told Reuters.

Caillaux added that the market for price reporting is still a growth market, making it ripe for investments.

Information provider IHS bought U.S. oil price reporting agency OPIS in a $650 million deal earlier this year.

Argus attracted over 60 prospective buyers and investors in the sale process, including U.S. buyout fund Hellman & Friedman, Singapore's gvoernment-owned investor Temasek, the Rothschild Group, and competitors including IHS.

General Atlantic has a wide portfolio of investments from healthcare companies to Uber and online media company BuzzFeed Inc.

Argus Media's sales increased by 15 percent in the 12 months to June 30 last year to 123 million pounds, and pretax profit rose by around 10 percent to 32.5 million.

The two businesses expect to complete the transaction within two months, subject to regulatory approval. ($1 = 0.6913 pounds) (Reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar; Editing by Keith Weir, Greg Mahlich)

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