Norwegian Cruise Line plans to go public

NEW YORK (AP) — Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. plans to go public, according to a regulatory filing on Friday.

The company said it expects to raise as much as $250 million by selling an unspecified number of shares, and would use the money to help pay down its $3.1 billion debt load.

It didn't indicate when it plans to go public, how many shares it plans to sell or the price it expects to get.

Norwegian is owned by three private-equity firms: Apollo Funds, TPG Capital and Genting HK. They will continue to own a majority of the shares after Norwegian goes public, though the company didn't give specifics. The firms will also continue to control the board of directors.

The private-equity firms have overhauled Norwegian's corner offices in the past three and a half years. Twelve of the top 14 senior managers have been newly recruited or promoted to their current positions since then.

Under Kevin Sheehan, the CEO since late 2008, Norwegian has expanded its European presence, de-emphasized its Hawaiian cruises and brought in new ships that are cheaper to maintain.

The company is on a marketing push to try to get customers to book as early as possible, so that it doesn't have to offer last-minute discounts. It is also encouraging staffers to push the specialty restaurants and activities that carry extra charges.

But like the rest of the cruise industry, Norwegian could have a hard time persuading people who are squeezed by rising grocery and gas costs to splurge on a cruise — and on the ever-rising airfare to get there. There's no telling what the economy will be like when it takes delivery of two new ships, in 2013 and 2014. Fuel costs are an increasing expense.

Employees, who represent a 2.2 to 1 ratio to guests, are under collective bargaining agreements that the company will have to renegotiate in a few years.

Norwegian was profitable in 2009 and 2010, a turnaround from the previous three years. But 2010's net income of $22.6 million represented a 66 percent decline from $67.2 million in 2009. Norwegian also lost money in the first quarter of this year.

Norwegian's main offices are in Miami but it is incorporated in Bermuda, meaning it wouldn't be subject to all the same laws as U.S.-based public companies.

The company plans to trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker NCLH.

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