Japan's Suntory looking to sell health club chain Tipness -sources

TOKYO, July 31 Thu Jul 31, 2014 6:20am EDT

TOKYO, July 31 (Reuters) - Japan's Suntory Holdings is looking to sell fitness club chain Tipness for around 30 billion yen ($292 million) to offset part of the cost of its $13.6 billion acquisition of U.S. spirits company Beam Inc earlier this year, people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Mobile phone carrier NTT DoCoMo Inc and media group Nippon Television Holdings Inc have expressed interest in acquiring Tipness, the people familiar with ongoing negotiations told Reuters.

The first round of bids is expected in early August, according to the sources, who asked not to be named.

Suntory's acquisition of Beam, worth $16 billion including net debt, was Japan's third-biggest outbound acquisition ever and made the company the third largest whiskey company.

U.S. ratings agency Moody's Investors Service in May downgraded the creditworthiness of Suntory's debt to Baa2 from A3, given the "high financial leverage from the acquisition".

The privately held Japanese beverage company has said it aims to raise more than 800 billion yen in debt in longer-term funding of the Beam deal, sources said.

Tipness operated 61 gyms centred around Tokyo as of January. It was initially a fully owned subsidiary of Suntory. Trading house Marubeni Corp owns a minority stake following the merger of its fitness club chain Revan with Tipness in 2001.

Suntory and NTT DoCoMo declined to comment. No comment was immediately available from Nippon Television or Marubeni. ($1 = 102.7200 Japanese Yen) (Reporting by Emi Emoto, Ritsuko Shimizu and Yoshiyasu Shida; Writing by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

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