Hilton hotel chain plans public stock offering

Hilton Worldwide, the McLean-based hotel chain, has tapped four banks to take the company public, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Hilton’s initial public stock sale, expected to take place next year, will bring to a close one of the most storied chapters in leveraged-buyout history. Publicly held Blackstone Group bought Hilton during the buyout frenzy in the summer of 2007, when multibillion-dollar deals were taking place by the day.

The deal’s enormous size, $26 billion in cash, which was a 40 percent premium over the stock price at the time, included Blackstone’s assumption of about $7.5 billion in debt.

The hospitality industry, which suffered steep losses during the economic downturn, has rebounded in recent quarters. Profits at Hilton grew 17 percent during the first half of the year, Blackstone founder and chief executive Stephen A. Schwarzman said in a July 18 call with investors.

At the time of the Hilton takeover, many observers thought that the private equity firm had drastically overpaid for the hotel company, which began 94 years ago with a single property in Cisco, Tex.

The deal was struck on the eve of the financial crisis, and many observers said Blackstone would be hard-pressed to earn a return on it.

Blackstone brought in Christopher J. Nassetta, who has close ties to the Washington community, to turn the company around. Nassetta, who has homes in Arlington and the Annapolis area, previously led Host Hotels & Resorts, based in Bethesda.

Nassetta moved hundreds of the company’s leaders from Beverly Hills, Calif., where Hilton had been headquartered since 1969, to its 11-story, 323,000-square-foot headquarters at Park Place II in Tysons Corner.

The news of a Hilton IPO comes on the heels of similar deals announced last month by Blackstone. The New York-based firm filed plans in July to sell its shares in Brixmor Property Group, which oversees hundreds of shopping centers, and Extended Stay America, which owns 700 hotels across the country.

“We obviously think that for the right asset, this is a good environment to start seeking some access” to the public markets, Schwarzman said last month. “And we’re doing that.”

Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs have been enlisted to help with the public offering, according to a person familiar with the deal, who declined to be identified because the person was not authorized to speak on the matter.

Hilton, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank declined to comment. Representatives of Bank of America and Goldman Sachs could not immediately be reached.

Hilton owns, manages or franchises hotels ranging from the Waldorf Astoria in New York to Embassy Suites Hotels. Its various brands include Hilton, Conrad Hotels & Resorts and Doubletree.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade. He has also covered local news, including the Maryland General Assembly and investigative work in Fairfax county. He has served as a correspondent for Newsweek and The Post, participating in coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber and the O.J. Simpson trial. Heath was born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y., where he attended Catholic schools. He is a graduate of Fordham University and was a 2001-2002 fellow at Columbia University’s Knight/Bagehot business fellowship program.
Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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