KKR says to go public on NYSE later in 2008

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co KKR.UL, one of the world's biggest private equity firms, plans to brave the turbulent equity markets and list on the New York Stock Exchange this year, joining rival Blackstone in bringing the famously secretive industry into public view.

KKR said on Sunday it plans to go public through a complicated transaction that involves buying its publicly listed Amsterdam investment fund, delisting it from Amsterdam and relisting the new company in New York.

A listing could value the combined KKR and the Amsterdam fund at $15 billion to $19 billion, and KKR itself at $12 billion to $15 billion, a source familiar with the situation said.

The move, however, comes amid a drought for private equity industry’s traditional business of leveraged buyouts. The mega-buyouts of the past few years dried up abruptly last summer, when the credit crunch shut off the cheap financing that sustained the multibillion dollar deals.

Shares of Blackstone Group LP BX.N, which went public in June 2007, just before the credit crunch, are sharply lower than their price at listing of $31 -- shares closed Friday on the NYSE at $17.01.

For KKR, a listing would allow it to have a more permanent capital base, use stock to retain and attract staff and have a currency to make acquisitions, one source said.

“Moving forward with a public listing will allow KKR to do what we do best -- grow companies around the world and produce solid returns for our investors from a larger platform and a deeper capital base,” KKR’s co-founders Henry Kravis and George Roberts said in a statement.

Unlike Blackstone’s initial public offering, however, the founders will not take any cash out of the company in the listing, a source said.

Founded in 1976, KKR rose to prominence during the debt-fueled leverage buyout (LBO) craze of the 1980s.

The firm carried out its first $1 billion LBO in 1984 and was involved in dozens of deals building up to the decade-defining 1988-1989 buyout of RJR Nabisco -- at the time the largest ever buyout of a commercial company -- which was immortalized in the bestselling book “Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco.”

In the buyout boom that ran from 2005 to 2007, KKR was involved in huge deals such as the $32 billion buyout of energy company TXU Corp.

Under KKR's plan to go public, it will buy its Amsterdam listed fund, KKR Private Equity Investors (KPE) KKR.AS.

KPE holders would own 21 percent of the combined company, with KKR holding the remaining 79 percent. KPE would be delisted from Euronext, and the new company would debut on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker “KKR”.

The transaction is expected to go through in the fourth quarter, meaning KKR should be publicly traded on the NYSE before the end of 2008.

KKR initially signaled its plan to go public in July 2007, when it filed a registration statement for an IPO. However, the credit crunch hit markets, and the prospects of going public for any company became tough. The July 3, 2007, IPO filing by KKR will be morphed into the Amsterdam/NYSE filing, a source said.

The deal also addresses a concern that KPE’s stock has traded with little liquidity. Under the deal, KKR is giving KPE stockholders an insurance policy that if the stock does not trade at specified levels, KKR will give up to an additional 6 percent ownership in the company.

Goldman Sachs GS.N and Morgan Stanley MS.N are advising KKR, Citi C.N is advising KPE, and Lazard LAZ.N is advising the independent directors of KPE, the statement said.

Additional reporting by Anupreeta Das in San Francisco and Jessica Hall in Philadelphia; editing by Maureen Bavdek/Jeffrey Benkoe