September 14, 2010 8:41 pm

Edwards up for sale as market revives

A rebound in the semiconductor industry has prompted the private equity owners of Edwards to hire investment banks to handle a £1.5bn auction of the company that supplies vacuum technology to the world’s biggest chipmakers.

Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs have been appointed by CCMP and Unitas Capital, the former US and Asian buy-out arms of JPMorgan, to advise on strategic options for Edwards.

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The move comes after the company hired Matthew Taylor and David Smith, the recently departed bosses of JCB and Jaguar Land Rover, as its new chief executive and finance director in preparation for a probable sale.

The auction is expected to start in a few weeks’ times and is likely to attract interest from other private equity groups and trade bidders, particularly in Asia, where the company earns most of its revenues.

An initial public offering of the business, possibly on the Nasdaq index in New York or on the London Stock Exchange, is also being considered, though this is seen as a backup option if the auction fails to drum up enough interest.

Edwards, part of the BOC gases group when it was bought by Germany’s Linde in 2006, is the world’s leading supplier of vacuum technology for industrial and scientific applications, such as semiconductor and flat-panel television production.

The 91-year-old company, which is based in Crawley and employs 3,000 staff, supplies the world’s 10 biggest semiconductor manufacturers and generates 60 per cent of its sales from Asia, mainly South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan.

In the three months to June, Edwards had $52m of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, with sales nearly doubling to $242m. Under private equity ownership, it has disposed of non-core assets, including chemical, parts cleaning and bearing businesses, generating about $100m.

It has invested heavily in its south-east England sites, where its research and development and gas abatement operations are based.

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