Hilton Worldwide may raise $2.25 billion in largest-ever IPO by a hotel chain


In the six years that he has run Hilton Worldwide, chief executive Christopher J. Nassetta has lowered debt and grown revenues for the hotel chain. (Cliff Owen/AP)

By the end of the year, McLean-based Hilton Worldwide is expected to raise $2.25 billion in the largest-ever initial public offering by a hotel chain, and perhaps erase doubts that private equity giant Blackstone Group erred when it bought the company six years ago.

The Hilton IPO, if successful, will help pay off a portion of the company’s $13 billion in debt and go a long way toward justifying the $26 billion that the Blackstone Group paid for the iconic hotelier.

The IPO will potentially raise twice as much as the $1.1 billion that Hyatt received when it went public in 2009, making it by far the largest hotel public offering on record, according to Dealogic, which follows private equity and initial public offerings.

The Hilton offering comes as the Dow Jones industrial average and other market indexes are reaching new highs, helping revive demand for IPOs. Hilton has not said what price it will set for its stock, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, but if there is enough demand it could raise more than its $2.25 billion target.

Within weeks of Blackstone’s purchase of Hilton in 2007, the economy began its long slide downward, putting pressure on the hotel industry and making the deal appear that it was curdling before Hilton had begun chipping away at the huge debt.

The deal became a poster child for leveraged-buyout excesses, with many Wall Street wags, hotel industry mavens and private-equity dealmakers privately denigrating the purchase.

To manage through the rough waters, Blackstone brought in seasoned Washington area hotel executive Christopher J. Nassetta as chief executive. Nassetta had previously led Host Hotels & Resorts, based in Bethesda.

In the six years he has run the giant hotel chain, Nassetta has lowered debt and grown revenue, increasing the number of properties from 2,900 when Blackstone bought it to more than 4,000 today with 1,000 more in the pipeline. The company elevated its brand, including expanding its Waldorf Astoria line, to compete with some of its more polished rivals.

And with the hotel industry far healthier than it was in 2007, especially in the big cities, the company believes the time is right to go back to the public markets.

“The timing seems to be good,” said Jeff Weinstein, editor in chief of Hotels magazine. “The industry fundamentals look strong for a couple of years, and based on prevailing wisdom, Hilton has been a very strong success story in the last four or five years. This [IPO] has been inevitable for a few years.”

Hilton and Blackstone declined to comment, citing restrictions imposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversees the public equity markets.

But the SEC documents filed by Hilton are revealing.

In the first six months of this year, Hilton reported a profit of $189 million on revenue of $4.6 billion, according to SEC filings.

Blackstone has said in public filings that it will receive none of the proceeds from the IPO and will use the money to reduce Hilton’s debt. But depending on the price of the stock at the time of the offering, Blackstone will still own 75 percent of the company after the IPO and could ultimately earn two times its initial $6 billion equity investment.

“I don’t think they’re monetizing their investment yet, but they’re certainly providing themselves with a mechanism to monetize their investment if the stock market continues to be favorable in 2014,” said Robert Spinna, principal at Park Bridge Financial. “I think most people would tell you they’ve doubled their investment already, and they haven’t even monetized it yet.”

Hilton Worldwide includes more than 4,000 hotels accounting for more than 665,000 rooms as of June 30, according to the filing. The 100-year-old company operates in 90 countries and territories. The company has more than 300,000 employees, including about 7,400 workers in the Washington area.

In addition to its namesake Hilton, the company owns, manages or franchises hotels under brands such as Waldorf Astoria, Embassy Suites, 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.
Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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