MADRID Spain's NH Hoteles (NHH.MC) has received a preliminary offer from U.S. private equity firm KKR (KKR.N) to buy bonds that can be converted into shares of the debt-laden hotel chain.
NH Hoteles, Europe's third largest business hotel operator based on rooms, has long been tipped as a private equity target given its large debt and that of its savings bank shareholders, which together own nearly a third of the firm.
Spanish savings banks, or cajas, have been viewed as unstable shareholders given mounting pressure to sell their equity stakes to meet new capital requirements ahead of a European rescue fund for the banking sector.
Meanwhile, NH Hoteles - with nearly 1 billion euros of debt and 193 million euros of operating cash flow in 2011 - has been trying to sell its assets to cut debt by a quarter in the next three years.
Spanish media said KKR could invest in NH Hoteles by first acquiring a 15.7 percent stake held by the parent of nationalized lender Bankia (BKIA.MC), worth about 100 million euros ($130 million), or through a capital increase, or both.
NH Hoteles said in a statement to Spain's stock market regulator on Friday that no definitive agreement with KKR had been reached, leaving it unclear what shape any stake buy or recapitalization plan might take.
An NH Hoteles spokesman said later that no further details were available.
"The board has received a proposal and now they'll be analyzing it more closely."
News of the preliminary offer from KKR sent NH Hoteles stock up 5 percent on Friday.
"KKR would remove the cajas from the shareholder structure and governing bodies, provide financial support for NH, and manage the company from a value-creation perspective," Spanish brokerage N+1 Equities said.
KKR co-founder Henry Kravis on Thursday tipped investment opportunities in Spain due to the country's debt crisis, saying the firm was interested in companies in the financial, hotel, leisure and real estate sectors.
NH Hoteles' business has been hit by recession in two of its main markets, Spain and Italy, but a deal could give KKR access to its more profitable hotels in Germany, Benelux, central Europe and Latin America.
Last year, China's HNA Group called off a deal to take a stake in NH Hoteles through a capital increase that would have given it 20 percent of the firm.
(Reporting By Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Hans-Juergen Peters)