China's Jangho makes $1.2 billion bid for Australian medical center owner Heals

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Chinese construction company Jangho Group Co Ltd 601886.SS has proposed to acquire medical center operator Healius Ltd HLS.AX for A$1.7 billion ($1.2 billion), marking what would be one of the mainland's biggest healthcare plays in Australia.

The proposal to buy Australia’s No.2 medical center operator highlights the interest Chinese investors have in health-related companies seen as high-quality assets with possible use back home, where an aging population is straining existing services.

It also reflects pressure on Australian health stocks that have been hit by concerns about tightening government subsidies and soft consumer spending. Hospital operator Healthscope HSO.AX is also fielding foreign takeover approaches following a decline in its share price.

Jangho Group, already Healius’ biggest shareholder with a 16 percent stake, has offered to buy the remaining 84 percent at one-third premium to Healius’ most recent trading close, separate filings from the companies showed on Thursday.

The Australian company, known as Primary Health Care until recently, said it was reviewing the A$3.25-per-share approach and had not yet formed a view about whether it would accept it.

It added that any deal would need approval from the cross-border M&A regulators of both countries.

Healius stock was up about 7 percent by 0357 GMT, but at A$2.62 it was still below Jangho's indicative offer price amid doubts the approach would result in a deal. The broader Australian market .AXJO was up 1.58 percent.

“It’s an opportunistic bid,” said Mathan Somasundaram, a portfolio manager at Blue Ocean Equities.

“Management very rarely want to sell a business because that means their pay check disappears (and) I can’t imagine any kind of independent report is going to say this is a very good bid.”

The offer, though higher than Healius’ Wednesday close, is 6 percent below its year-ago level. The shares have dropped on worries about its ability to hire and keep doctors.

Most general practitioners in Australia work independently or in small shared practices, keeping most of the government subsidies or paying a small amount to their shared practice. Large medical center operators like Healius offer GPs higher patient numbers but potentially a smaller share of the subsidy.

Healius has hired UBS UBSG.S as financial adviser, while Jangho has hired Australia's Macquarie Group MQG.AX.

Jangho's bid comes at a time when Chinese investors are snapping up Australian health-related companies in a variety of subsectors, including an A$800 million deal to buy vitamin company Nature's Care and a A$1.87 billion bid for liver cancer treatment firm Sirtex Medical Ltd SRX.AX.

($1 = 1.4436 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney and Kane Wu in Hong Kong; Editing by Himani Sarkar