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SoftBank-backed robot warehouse group AutoStore plans Oslo IPO

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SoftBank-backed warehouse robotics group AutoStore is planning a stock market listing next month in Oslo that could value the business at almost $12bn.

Japanese tech investor SoftBank bought a 40 per cent stake in AutoStore, which is based in a small village in western Norway, for $2.8bn earlier this year. Its systems automate warehouse storage and retrieval processes and it manufactures for companies such as Puma and Ikea.

AutoStore had revenues of $182m last year but is aiming for $300m in 2021 and more than $500m next year, as demand from grocery retailers and online sellers increases sharply. Its margin for earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation is about 50 per cent, a level it claims it can maintain in the medium term.

“I believe we are in a perfect spot. We are in a market that will grow for decades to come. We really believe that we are just at the start of the growth story,” chief executive Karl Johan Lier told the Financial Times.

AutoStore pioneered cube storage automation, which allows much higher storage volumes through vertical stacking that would be too risky for human operators. It has almost 700 installations in 35 countries for customers such as Gucci and Texas Instruments.

Lier estimated that AutoStore had more than 90 per cent of the current market for cube storage, although other companies such as Japan’s Daifuku also offer warehouse automation.

AutoStore, which has 149 employees — about three-quarters of whom work in software — had been helped by the huge rise in online shopping during the pandemic, especially grocery shopping, Lier said.

AutoStore chief executive Karl Johan Lier: “We are in a market that will grow for decades to come” © AutoStore

Founded and headquartered in Nedre Vats, a village of just 400 inhabitants between Bergen and Stavanger on Norway’s west coast, AutoStore grew out of a local electronic components company in the 1990s before it was bought by Swedish private equity group EQT in 2017. EQT sold the company to US private equity business Thomas H Lee Partners, which is still the biggest shareholder with a 50 per cent stake.

Lier declined to comment on any valuation, saying that would come when the prospectus was published around October 10. The listing should take place around October 20. People familiar with the details said that a potential valuation of about €10bn ($11.7bn) was being discussed.

The April sale to SoftBank valued the business at $7.7bn, including debt. AutoStore is set to use the proceeds from the initial public offering to reduce its debt to a “more normal level”, according to Lier. AutoStore will sell $315m in new shares in the offering while existing shareholders will also reduce their stakes.

The group is also in the process of suing rival Ocado for alleged intellectual property theft. Lier said AutoStore was “very comfortable on the outcome — we expect to prevail”. He added that Ocado had bought a cube storage system from it in 2012 and allegedly “used it to develop their own system”. Ocado has said it was “not aware of any infringement” of AutoStore’s rights.

Lier said AutoStore’s biggest competitor was not a rival but companies deciding not to invest in optimising their warehouses.

Carnegie, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley are the joint global co-ordinators for the IPO.

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