* Permira, Bain among firms pursuing Bellsystem24
* Citigroup expected to start sale process early next month
* Sale of Bellsystem24 originally scheduled for last year (Adds details, background)
By Junko Fujita and Michael Flaherty
TOKYO/HONG KONG, June 11 (Reuters) - Permira [PERM.UL] and Bain Capital are among the private equity firms interested in bidding for a Japanese telemarketer expected to be sold by Citigroup Inc (C.N) in a deal that could be worth around $1.5 billion, people familiar with the matter said.
The sale of Bellsystem24 Inc was originally scheduled for last year but got delayed as the credit crisis deepened, making it difficult for buyers to procure funds, the sources said.
Citigroup, now more confident bidders will be able to secure financing, will likely start the sale process by early next month, one of the sources said.
Nikko Citigroup, Citigroup’s Japanese investment arm, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N), are advising the sale of Bellsystem24, sources said.
All six sources familiar with the deal spoke on condition of anonymity because the process has not started yet.
Citigroup declined to comment while spokesmen for Permira and Bain were not immediately available for comment.
Citigroup has been unloading its assets globally to bolster its capital position after receiving $45 billion in loans from the U.S. government.
The U.S. bank in May agreed to sell its Japanese brokerage unit Nikko Cordial and part of its investment banking business at Nikko Citigroup to a Japanese banking group Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc (8316.T) for 573.5 billion yen ($5.9 billion).
Citigroup’s Japanese investment arm owns 94 percent in a Japanese telemarketer, which could have a $2 billion enterprise value, another banker familiar with the company said.
Nikko Asset Management, Citigroup’s fund management business, is also put on sale, according to people with knowledge about the deal.
Another source familiar with the matter said Bellsystem24’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation -- a cash flow measure known as EBITDA -- was around $150 million to $200 million. Assuming a purchase price multiple of 8 times EBITDA the company could sell for at least $1.6 billion, the source said.
Bellsystem24 controls the largest market share in Japan’s telemarketing industry, according to Masaaki Kitami, an analyst at Merrill Lynch in Tokyo who covers Moshi Moshi Hotline Inc (4708.T), the second-largest telemarketer.
Transcosmos Inc (9715.T) is the third-largest company, Kitami said.
Bellsystem24’s net profit fell 13 percent to 8.7 billion yen in the year ended February, on sales of 116 billion yen, almost unchanged from the previous year, according to the company’s filings.
Even though the company’s profit was down, the industry grew 10.5 percent to 475 billion yen in the 2007 business year, according to Yano Research Institute, a Tokyo-based research firm.
“The industry will keep growing because more companies want to focus on their core business and they will tend to outsource customer relations,” Kitami said.
Nikko Principal Investments (NPI), a private equity arm of Citigroup, initially owned 71.73 percent of Bellsystem24. In 2004 NPI bought more stake for 28,000 yen per share, valuing the company at 151 billion yen. ($1=97.94 Yen) (Additional reporting by George Chen in Hong Kong.)