Childcare roll-up Evolve Education Group is gearing up for an acquisition push, with chief executive Alan Wham indicating the company might begin adding additional businesses to its portfolio as early as February or March next year.
The Auckland-based company made its sharemarket debut this morning and the stock recently traded at $1.08, an 8 per cent premium to the $1 issue price, giving the firm a market capitalisation of $191.2 million.
Evolve raised $132 million through an oversubscribed initial public offer (IPO), which was used to fund the purchase of New Zealand early childhood education businesses including Lollipops Educare and Porse.
Wham said it would probably take until early next year to "bed-down" and integrate the businesses in its initial portfolio.
"We might be able to add some additional [businesses] in February or March," he said. "But it will depend how the bedding process goes down."
Acquisitions will be funded with Evolve's $60 million ASB debt facility.
The 85 centres in Evolve's initial portfolio account for around 4 per cent of the total market, suggesting there is much scope for the company to grow through acquisitions.
The sell to investors is that New Zealand's early childhood education (ECE) sector is highly fragmented and can be made more efficient and profitable through consolidation.
Major existing players in New Zealand's ECE sector include Kidicorp and Kindercare.
Kidicorp, which operates more than 250 centres under brands including ABC and Edukids, de-listed from the NZX in 2007.
Its managing director, Wayne Wright, said in a media report earlier this year that Kidicorp had already rebuffed an approach from Evolve over potential acquisitions.
"[Wright] has got a good business running there," said Wham. "He's got to determine what he wants to do."
The Evolve offer received strong pick-up from Australasian institutions and retail clients of participating New Zealand sharebrokers.
"The very strong support for the IPO from a range of investors is an endorsement of the quality of the assets that will make up Evolve Education," said chairwoman Norah Barlow.
Evolve was established in May by Greg Kern and Russell Daly of Australia's Kern Group.
Kern, who has a seat on Evolve's board, acted as an adviser to Australian childcare provider Affinity Education Group, which listed on the ASX exactly a year ago on December 5, 2013.
Evolve has been described as an "echo" of Affinity, but Kern said the New Zealand company was "an improvement" on the Australian firm in terms of its structure.
He said a particularly positive aspect of Evolve was the fact that Lollipops founders Mark Finlay, Russell Thompson and Andy Scott were remaining as cornerstone shareholders in the listed company.
"Evolve is quite similar to Affinity but it is double the size that Affinity listed at," Kern said. "The other aspect is that Evolve is the only listed player in this market, whereas Affinity was secondary to [also ASX-listed] G8."
Roughly 75 per cent of Evolve was sold through the IPO and the company says the majority of investors are New Zealand-based.
The company has forecast profit of $16.6 million from revenue of $136.2 million in the 12 months to March 2016.
A net dividend yield of 4.69 per cent has been forecast for the 2016 financial year, according to the prospectus.
Evolve will operate 30 Lollipops ECE centres and a further 55 centres acquired from other sellers.
Porse operates home-based ECE services, while Evolve has also acquired home-based childcare provider Au Pair Link.
NZX chief executive Tim Bennett said Evolve was a great addition to New Zealand's capital markets.
"It further diversifies the investment opportunities available for New Zealanders on NZX, this time in early childhood education, and also demonstrates that our capital markets are helping New Zealand businesses to raise capital to execute their growth strategies," Bennett said.
Forsyth Barr and Goldman Sachs managed the offer.