Blackstone gets Hilton hotels ready for billion-dollar float

Accountants prepare books for quick sale – in London or New York – but only when the time is right

Mark Leftly
Sunday 20 March 2011 01:00

Private-equity giant Blackstone is finessing the accounts for its Hilton Worldwide hotels empire in preparation for an eventual flotation in New York or London.

Accountants are understood to be poring over the books to bring them up to international financial reporting standards, a prerequisite for listing on the world's major exchanges.

There is not thought to be a timetable for the flotation, but Blackstone executives are keen that Hilton be fully prepared to move quickly when they decide the time and markets are right for a share sale.

A source close to the two groups said: "This is a long process of preparation. The focus is getting the timing right, so that if you wake up one morning and decide to go for it you can."

Blackstone appears to have settled on listing the whole business as its eventual exit. Previously, the US-based buy-out group was thought to be considering a range of options, including listing on different exchanges along geographical lines. However, Hilton is believed to have successfully integrated its two distinct businesses since Blackstone snapped up the hotels in a $26bn deal almost four years ago. In 2006, the Hilton brands were reunited after a 42-year separation. The US-focused Hilton Hotels Corporation snaffled the 400 hotels of the UK-based Hilton Group in a $3.3bn deal.

At the top of the market a year later, Blackstone stunned investors with its own deal for the combined group. Blackstone raised $21bn of loans, shortly before the banks essentially shut up shop as the credit crunch struck.

"They've integrated it all now," said a leisure-industry source. "Blackstone will more than get out their equity and they would be remiss in their fiduciary duties if they were not ready to list quickly if they decided to sell the shares."

Despite the development, Blackstone and Hilton have often stressed that a listing is not imminent. Earlier this month, Hilton's chief executive, Chris Nassetta, said that a listing was "something we will consider at some point", but that there was no "rush".

The decision, though, will be that of its parent. Hilton is instead focused on opening hotels in Europe, Latin America and Asia to add to its 3,600-strong chain, which includes the Waldorf Astoria and Embassy Suites brands.

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