NEW YORK CITY-Poised to seize on ideal market conditions, the Blackstone Group is getting ready to sell Hilton Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which it acquired in 2007 for more than $18 billion, plus more than $7 billion in assumed debt. The private equity firm is reportedly preparing an IPO for the hotel giant and has hired four banks—Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley—to start the process, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Blackstone has been shedding assets of late, taking advantage of the dominance of the public market over private equity. The firm revealed earlier this week it would sell its holdings in La Quinta Hotels and, in July it filed plans to sell shares in its Extended Stay America hotel brand. In the second quarter the firm issued an IPO for Sea World Entertainment and, the Journal reports, it sold shares in companies like Nielsen Holdings. The company completed an IPO of Pinnacle Foods in the first quarter.
Industrial is Blackstone’s latest area of interest.The firm is not likely looking to get out of the hotel business necessarily; rather, it is simply taking advantage of a good climate both in the public markets and for the hotel sector, according to David Kessler, co-managing partner of CohnReznick’s Bethesda, MD office and national director of the firm’s national commercial real estate practice.
“Blackstone is just saying ‘this is the time to realize the return on our investments,’” he asserts. “The company invested in Hilton through three different funds, and I’ve heard that Blackstone is projecting a 10% internal rate of return on one of those funds.”
Everything has lined up for Blackstone, with so many successful IPOs this year and so much money raised, the repositioning of the Hilton brand and such strong fundamentals in the hospitality sector,” he says. “Demand continues to outpace supply—and likely will continue to for some time as financing for new construction is still severely constrained, and there’s been an increase of profit margins.”
The turnaround of Hilton that Blackstone has been able to engineer is noteworthy, Kessler says. “Before the acquisition, Hilton had a negative connotation. The brand had gotten stale; it kind of went the way of the Cadillac.
“Blackstone was successful in renegotiating a lot of Hilton’s debt,” he continues, “and Chris Nassetta [Hilton's CEO] has done a unbelievable job of reshaping the company. Hilton has come up with a lot of different brands and products, particularly in the select service category. Now, there’s positive brand recognition, and that’s important from a valuation standpoint.”
Overseeing luxury brands like Waldorf-Astoria and Conrad Hotels, as well as successful limited service brands such as Hampton and Homewood Suites—with DoubleTree hotels and other product lines in between—Hilton offers a portfolio of more than 4,000 properties. Investor interest in the sale likely will be high, Kessler forecasts.
“There’s a lot of investor interest in the hospitality sector because of the fundamentals, the operating performance and projections. Even though interest rates have ticked up slightly, it hasn’t had an impact on performance dynamics. People are looking for equity investments that offer something beyond yield, and there’s a lot of appreciation potential with hotels because of where the supply and demand ratio is right now.”
A Blackstone spokesman declined to comment. A Hilton spokesman said only, “It’s our policy not to comment on rumors and speculation.”