SEOUL/HONG KONG Aug 22 Private equity firms Affinity Equity Partners and CVC Capital Partners are among potential bidders for South Korea's No. 1 car rental company, KT Rental, in a sale expected to fetch around 800 billion won ($786 million), people familiar with the matter said on Friday.
KT Rental parent KT Corp, South Korea's No. 2 telecom company, announced the sale in June, the latest disposal in a series of non-core assets being sold off by sprawling South Korean conglomerates. Bankers say the trend will likely lure private equity firms, flush with capital and looking to invest in one of Asia's hottest markets for mergers and acquisitions.
KT is also selling loan servicing arm KT Capital , while Hanwha Group recently sold drug unit DreamPharma. POSCO is seeking to sell assets including POSCO Specialty Steel, while the Hanjin and Hyundai groups are also selling assets to improve their balance sheets.
Private equity-backed M&A deals in South Korea have reached $16.9 billion thus far this year, already surpassing 2013's $11.6 billion and accounting for more than half of all such M&A deals in Asia in 2014 so far.
Affinity was not available for comment, while CVC declined to comment.
The people familiar with the matter said other unidentified potential bidders are considering offers. The people declined to be identified as they were not authorised to speak to media.
South Korean online publication Edaily and other media have reported other potential bidders include SK Networks , which has its own auto rental business, and retail giant Lotte Group.
An SK Networks spokesman said nothing had been decided on whether to participate in bidding. A Lotte spokesman could not be reached for comment.
KT Rental said in a filing it had a 26 percent share of South Korea's car rental market in the second quarter. The company had an operating profit of 97 billion won last year, with an 11 percent operating margin sure to the catch the eye of potential bidders.
"The car rental business is stable. It's basically asset-backed and the market is steadily growing. All the buyer needs to do is not pay too much," said Han Byung-hwa, an analyst at Eugene Investment & Securities.
The country's giant 'chaebols', or family-owned conglomerates, are selling non-core assets, drawing lessons from the 2012-2013 collapse of mid-tier peers like Woongjin and Tong Yang, which failed to slim down quickly after ambitious expansion left them saddled with heavy debts following the 2008 global financial crisis.
"South Korean chaebols are trying to streamline their portfolio. There may be decent M&A opportunities in the coming three years in relation to such chaebols' strategic initiatives," said Jangho Park, CEO and head of investment banking at Citigroup Global Markets Korea told Reuters.
Credit Suisse is advising KT on the sale.
(1 US dollar = 1,017.5500 Korean won)
(Reporting by Stephen Aldred and Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)