RPT-IPO VIEW-Private equity must wait for frothy IPO payday

Sun Apr 11, 2010 11:46am EDT

* HCA, Toys "R" Us IPOs could be price sensitive

* Metals USA IPO pricing was too aggressive-analyst

* HCA IPO size could signal mkt appetite concern-analyst (Repeating item that initially moved on Friday)

By Clare Baldwin

NEW YORK, April 9 (Reuters) - Private equity firms seeking an IPO exit route may struggle to get the frothy initial public offering values seen before the financial crisis and will need to carefully woo investors.

Surging stock indexes have triggered renewed interest in the IPO market by private equity companies seeking to sell stakes in their portfolio companies.

But private equity-backed IPOs have lagged overall initial public offering performance in the United States, according to Thomson Reuters data.

An IPO that fails to gain after its pricing can hurt investor sentiment toward follow-on offerings. It can also hurt other, similar offerings.

Private equity firms typically exit investments by IPO gradually, with a small offering to start with, and follow-on offerings later. They typically keep stakes in the companies they IPO for several years.

Apollo Management LP [APOLO.UL]-backed Metals USA Holdings Corp (MUSA.N) on Thursday priced its shares 10.5 percent above the midpoint of the expected range and sold more shares than anticipated. But the shares swooned 8.6 percent in their trading debut on Friday.

"This one didn't work," said Ben Holmes, founder of equity capital markets research house Morningnotes.com. "I think it forces the bankers ... to sharpen their pencils and pay a little closer attention to their valuation and their pricing terms."

At the midpoint of its original price range, Metals USA, which sells processed carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum, red metals and manufactured metal parts to customers in North America, was at a discount to its peers, said Eric Guja, an analyst with Connecticut-based Renaissance Capital. But at the higher IPO price it was in line with chief competitors Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co (RS.N), he said.

"They have to price these things to work or people stop buying them," Holmes said. "I don't think we're at the point where they can start coming out aggressively."

Hospital chain HCA, owned by private equity firms including Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co [KKR.UL] and Bain Capital, will be interviewing banks in the coming weeks to put together an underwriting group for an upcoming IPO, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters. [ID:nN08202131]

Toys "R" Us, owned by KKR, Bain and Vornado Realty Trust (VNO.N), is also considering an IPO and is examining the strength of the IPO and retail markets, sources told Reuters. [ID:nN09251560]

Private-equity backed Dutch semiconductor company NXP is also planning an IPO, sources said. [ID:nLDE62Q0AH]

PE LAGS

The three major stock indexes on Friday achieved their sixth-straight week of gains -- a positive run not seen since stocks rebounded from more than 12-year lows in March 2009.

Still, private equity-backed IPOs have lagged.

Twenty of the 60 U.S. IPOs in 2009 were private-equity backed. They posted first day gains of 11.5 percent compared with all IPOs which, on average, posted first-day gains of 17.3 percent.

So far in 2010, five of the 29 U.S. IPOs have been private-equity backed. Even looking beyond first-day performance, they have lagged the overall IPO market. To date, private-equity-backed IPOs have posted returns of about 8 percent compared with all IPOs' returns of 11 percent.

This year's performance has been weighed especially by Cellu Tissue Holdings Inc CLU.N, which is down 23 percent. Cellu Tissue makes specialty paper products used in everything from toilet paper to paper towels. Its main backer was private equity firm Weston Presidio LP.

HCA could have a market capitalization at $25 (billion) to $30 billion, said Josef Schuster, founder of Chicago-based research house IPOX Schuster LLC.

He said that an average IPO sells 25 to 30 percent of its market capitalization; if HCA is planning to sell only $3 (billion) to $4.5 billion, it could signal concern about the market's appetite for a full-size offering. Media reports have pointed to the smaller-sized offering.

"It's a signal that the market may not be able to absorb the $10 billion offering. It may be able to absorb between $3 (billion) and $4.5 billion but not higher." Schuster said. "$5 (billion) to $10 billion is a lot of money even from a global perspective."

Schuster said a smaller offering could also help HCA price higher because it will not appear that KKR and Bain are abandoning their investment. (Reporting by Clare Baldwin, additional reporting by Megan Davies and Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Maureen Bavdek)

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