March 30, 2012 / 1:05 AM / 8 years ago

Exclusive: Laureate Education readies IPO: sources

(Reuters) - Laureate Education Inc, a for-profit higher education provider that boasts former U.S. President Bill Clinton as honorary chancellor, is planning to launch an initial public offering, according to people familiar with the matter.

Plans for the long-anticipated IPO of Laureate come as the U.S. stock market puts in a strong showing, and valuations of the company’s domestic peers have taken a beating, due to regulatory scrutiny, unflattering publicity and slowing growth. Laureate, however, has strong emerging markets exposure. Half its revenues come from Mexico, Chile and Brazil, where post-secondary enrollment is growing faster than in the U.S. and international schools are less regulated, according to a Standard & Poor’s note published on Thursday.

Laureate, which was taken private by a consortium led by its chief executive, Douglas L. Becker, and buyout firm KKR & Co LP (KKR.N) for $3.82 billion in 2007, is in the process of appointing investment banks for the IPO, the people said.

A spokesman for Baltimore, Maryland-based Laureate did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while KKR declined to comment.

Laureate Education runs a network of 60 accredited campus-based and online universities offering undergraduate and graduate degrees to more than 675,000 students around the world, according to its website.

A challenge for Laureate’s IPO may be its debt load. Standard & Poor’s, which has ‘B’ credit rating on Laureate, on Thursday called the company “highly leveraged” but noted that its debt burden is less than at the time of the 2007 buyout.

The credit rating agency also described Laureate’s business risk profile as “weak” due to its rapid overseas expansion, which it said involved considerable execution and country risk.

Laureate’s strategy has been to acquire established international educational institutions with strong positions in their markets and then try to improve their curriculum and boost enrollment levels, according to the rating agency.

The consortium that bought Laureate in 2007 also included investment firms Citigroup Private Equity, S.A.C. Capital Management LLC, SPG Partners, Bregal Investments, Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, Sterling Capital, Makena Capital, Torreal S.A. and Southern Cross Capital.

Laureate’s offering puts an end to a long drought in the higher education IPO market in the U.S. The last education IPO was that of Education Management EDMC.O in October 2009 .

Reporting by Olivia Oran and Greg Roumeliotis in New York and A. Ananthalakshmi in Bangalore; editing by Carol Bishopric

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