By Tanya Agrawal and Olivia Oran
(Reuters) - Blackstone Group LP is hoping the stock market will value Hilton Worldwide Inc at around $30 billion, including debt, a source familiar with the situation said, as the private equity firm filed papers on Thursday to take the U.S. hotel operator public.
In the initial public offering, which sources have said is expected early next year, Blackstone plans to sell a minority stake in Hilton to raise up to $1.25 billion, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing. (http://link.reuters.com/zet92v)
Blackstone, which took Hilton private in 2007 at the height of the buyout boom for $26.7 billion, is hoping that a recovering economy, growing demand for business travel and rising room rates will allow it to command a rich valuation for Hilton.
Revenue per available room, a measure of room rates and occupancy levels, has increased about 6.9 percent over the past three years in the Americas and demand has returned to pre-economic crisis levels, according to Smith Travel Research Inc, which tracks hotel industry data.
As a result, hotel stocks have been on a tear. The Dow Jones U.S. Hotels index has risen 18 percent this year. Marriott International Inc is up 15 percent, while Starwood Hotels and Resorts is up about 20 percent.
Marriott and Starwood trade around 12 to 13 times their earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization. Analysts said they expect Hilton's shares to trade around the same multiples as these rivals.
"They compete very favorably with Starwood and Marriott and Hyatt, which are already there. They probably do quite well in that spectrum," said Keith Brenan, chief operating officer of Weitzman Group Inc, a real estate consultant. "Marriott is probably doing a little bit better than they are. They have a stronger rewards program."
Founded in 1919 by Conrad Hilton, the hotel operator's brands include such high-end names as Conrad and Waldorf Astoria. Hilton has 4,041 hotels, or 665,667 rooms under its umbrella, located in 90 countries. The company itself owns or leases 157 hotels, including the Waldorf Astoria in New York and the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Hilton's 2012 EBITDA was about $2 billion. But the source said Blackstone's internal projections for profit suggest that a $30 billion enterprise value would be in line with where its rivals were trading.
Hilton has about $15.4 billion in debt. Last month, sources told RLPC that the company was preparing a $12 billion debt financing package to refinance existing debt ahead of the IPO. [ID:nL2N0GF1UJ]
Blackstone declined to comment.
Blackstone's plans for an IPO of Hilton come as private equity firms have been trying to sell or list assets to take advantage of a surging IPO market, as a market rally and low interest rates have enticed investors into stocks.
The global volume of IPOs rose 14 percent to $79.2 billion in 2013 up to August, compared with the same period last year, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Other recent IPOs from private equity-backed companies include industrial and construction supplies company HD Supply Holdings Inc, childcare operator Bright Horizons Family Solutions Inc and cruise line operator Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.
Blackstone has also sought to unload its real estate assets. In July, it filed to take hotel chain Extended Stay America Inc public. It also has filed to take public its shopping center unit Brixmor Property Group and is looking to sell or take public hotel chain La Quinta.
Reuters and other media had reported in August that Blackstone was preparing to bring Hilton to the public market.
Deutsche Bank AG, Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Bank of America Corp and Morgan Stanley are the lead underwriters on the Hilton offering.
Hilton plans to use the proceeds from the offering to repay debt and for other general corporate purposes.
The filing did not disclose the number of shares on offer or their expected price. The amount of money a company says it plans to raise in its first IPO filings is used to calculate registration fees. The final size of the IPO could be different.
(Reporting by Tanya Agrawal in Bangalore, and Olivia Oran and Ilaina Jonas in New York; editing by Maju Samuel, Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Matthew Lewis)