January 29, 2014 / 2:40 AM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 1-Australia's Healthscope ponders IPO, trade or property trust sale

* Valuation seen at around A$4 billion

* Quality healthcare companies in high demand

By Maggie Lu Yueyang

SYDNEY, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Australian hospital operator Healthscope Ltd is considering three options for a sale process to cash in on current strong demand for quality healthcare assets, managing director Rob Cooke said on Wednesday.

“Definitely we will look at an IPO, maybe a trade buyer. Another one is also to sell into a property trust. So three options are under consideration,” Cooke said in a telephone interview.

Healthscope’s private equity owners - TPG and Carlyle Group - could realise about A$4 billion ($3.5 billion) from the sale, a source with knowledge of the transaction told Reuters.

While no decision has been made, an IPO looks more likely at the moment, following recent successful listings for private equity assets in Australia, the source said.

“There is a shortage of healthcare stocks. Healthscope’s performance has been very good over last three years. There is a great growth profile going forward,” Cooke said, noting high demand for healthcare companies such as Ramsay Health Care Ltd .

Shares in Ramsay, a bigger rival in private hospital operations, jumped 59 percent in 2013, while Sonic Healthcare Ltd rose 24 percent, against a 15 percent gain for the broader market.

Eight banks, namely Bank of America Merrill Lynch, CIMB, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Macquarie Capital, Morgan Stanley and UBS have been invited to pitch for participation in the sale process, the Australian Financial Review said.

Reuters source, who cannot be identified because some details of the discussions are private, said the winning banks should be selected within a few weeks.

Healthscope, which owns 44 private hospitals in Australia and pathology operations in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand, reported A$328 million in operating earnings before finance costs, income tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) for the year ending June 2013.

Ramsay, which reported A$599 million in EBITDA over the same period, is currently trading at a market valuation of A$8.7 billion.

TPG and Carlyle, which beat KKR in 2010 in bidding for Healthscope, each own 50 percent of the company.

Australia’s IPO market has staged a comeback since late last year following a few lean years post the global financial crisis, with some big deals including the A$636 million debut of Nine Entertainment Co Holdings Ltd.

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