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Hilton shares jump by 9 percent after record hotel IPO

NEW YORK--Six years after being taken private, Hilton Worldwide Holdings Thursday made a successful comeback to the market, jumping nine percent after its IPO raised US$2.35 billion.

The IPO, the largest ever in the hotel sector and the second-biggest US market debut of 2013, illustrated strong investor demand for Hilton, the world's largest hotel company by some benchmarks.

Investment banks priced IPO shares at US$20, on the high end of the US$18-US$21 range originally given, and boosted the number of shares by nearly five million compared with the initial plan.

In all, Hilton sold 117.6 million shares and set aside an additional 17.6 million shares in case of additional demand.

Hilton shares, trading under the “HLT” ticker on the New York Stock Exchange, immediately vaulted higher and were trading 9.1-percent higher at midday at US$21.81.

Hilton has touted a large increase in hotel rooms and a growing international presence since the chain was bought by U.S. investment titan The Blackstone Group in 2007 for US$25 billion. Of the new rooms under construction, 78 percent are outside the U.S., Hilton said in a U.S. securities filing.

Besides the Hilton chain, the company owns the Waldorf Astoria and Embassy Suites chains, among others. Hilton has more than 4,000 hotels, resorts and timeshares in 90 countries and territories.

Chief executive Christopher Nassetta emphasized regional diversification in a television interview Thursday.

“It's a big world and different parts of the world speed up and slow down,” Nassetta told CNBC Thursday.

“We think we're very quick on our feet” to tailor the right hotel chain at the best time, Nassetta said.

Nassetta told CNBC he aims to speed growth in the “more capital light” aspects of the hotel business, but does not plan to sell existing properties in the short-term.

As with most leading hotel chains, Hilton has avoided direct ownership of most new properties.

About 99 percent of the company's new hotel pipeline are either franchises or managed by Hilton but owned by other parties, said Chad Molmann, an analyst at Morningstar.

This model permits Hilton to achieve larger profit margins with lower capital investment. Hilton's services to its franchises include a central reservation system and guidance on designing the hotel, Molmann said.

“It's easier to grow more quickly,” with the franchising and management model, Molmann said.

Molmann also credited Hilton under Nassetta with improving the company's capital structure, slashing debt from more than US$20 billion to US$14.5 billion.

Hilton has said it plans to use proceeds from the IPO to pay down debt.

Thursday's IPO marks a new chapter in the Hilton story for Blackstone, which did not sell down its stake and continues to hold a controlling interest of 76.2 percent.

Blackstone bought the 88-year-old company in 2007 for US$25 billion, including debt, shortly before the financial crisis battered the travel industry.

Blackstone was forced to negotiate a debt reduction with Hilton creditors and take a US$6 billion depreciation charge on the investment. Hilton's overall value is about US$20 billion, based on Thursday's IPO.

Molmann predicted Blackstone would “sell their shares gradually” over the next four years. Nassetta told CNBC he expects Blackstone to “eventually exit” Hilton, but to hold on to its shares for some time.

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Christopher Nassetta, CEO of Hilton Worldwide (HLT), attends the initial price offering (IPO) of Hilton Worldwide on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in New York on Thursday, Dec. 12.

(AFP)

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