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Cineworld in talks to acquire Regal Entertainment for US$3.6b

[NEW YORK] Cineworld Group Plc, a British operator of movie theaters, is in talks to acquire US peer Regal Entertainment Group for approximately US$3.6 billion in cash, the companies said on Tuesday.

A deal between the two would put the combined company in a better position to take market share from US industry leader AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc, and also give it more scale to fight increasing competition from Netflix Inc, Apple Inc and other digital outlets.

Regal said in a statement that Cineworld's all-cash offer values it at US$23 per share, confirming an earlier Reuters report. No agreement has been reached and there is no assurance that any transaction will result, Regal added.

Cineworld added in a separate statement released later that it was in advanced discussions to acquire Regal and was finalizing due diligence on its offer.

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Cineworld said it would finance its bid through a "mixture of incremental debt and a material equity raise by way of a rights issue, including a commitment to full subscription" from its largest shareholder, Global City Holdings.

Global City Holdings is a Polish holding company that owns entertainment and real estate businesses in Europe and Israel.

Global City owns 28 per cent of Cineworld, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Regal shares jumped as much as 16 percent after Reuters reported the deal talks. They closed up 7.6 per cent at US$19.63 in New York, giving the company a market value of about US$3 billion.

Cineworld has a market value of £1.9 billion (S$3.42 billion).

Other movie theater operators' shares also shot higher; AMC rose 8.4 per cent to close at US$16.15 while Cinemark Holdings rose 3.7 per cent to US$36.19. Movie technology firm Imax Corp closed up 5.6 percent at $26.40.

Regal's top shareholder is Anschutz Corp, led by Denver-based dealmaker and billionaire Phil Anschutz. While Anschutz Corp owns just over 10 percent of Regal, it controls the company through a separate class of voting stock.

Regal Entertainment, which owns 561 theaters with 7,315 screens, hired an investment bank in 2014 to explore strategic alternatives, including a potential sale, but later shelved those plans.

Cineworld bought Cinema City to become Europe's second-largest movie theater chain in 2014. It operates 2,049 screens across 221 sites in Britain, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Israel.

The last major deal in the sector was in December 2016, when AMC completed its acquisition of Carmike Cinemas for about US$1.1 billion. AMC also acquired Europe's largest theater chain, Odeon, for US$1.2 billion last year.