TOKYO, July 31 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)