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Temasek, KKR competing to buy stake in Philippine hospitals group: sources

[SINGAPORE] Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings and buyout firm KKR are among the suitors who have advanced to the second round of an auction to buy into the hospital unit of Metro Pacific Investments Corp, sources told Reuters.

The unit, which operates 14 hospitals, many of which are among the largest and most modern in the Philippines, had attracted interest from more than a dozen investors.

The sale comes as global investors scout for targets after raising billions of dollars in the last few years.

South-east Asia - home to a large number of fast-growing companies - is viewed by investors as an attractive prospect, due to strong healthcare spending.

Last month, Metro Pacific announced plans to sell a minority stake in its unit at a valuation of up to US$2.5 billion, which could make it the country's biggest healthcare deal.

Buyout firm CVC and strategic investors figure among the bidders, said the sources, who have knowledge of the matter.

The bidders are valuing the hospital unit at up to US$2 billion, pegging its valuation at just over 20 times next year's estimated core profit, as they seek a majority economic stake in it, the sources added on condition of anonymity as the talks are private.

Sources said the Philippine conglomerate's primary plan is to bring external institutional investors into the hospital chain despite an IPO (initial public offering) application filed last week.

"Metro Pacific wants to get a transaction done before the end of the year and a M&A (merger and acquisition) remains the basic assumption," said one source. "If the bids don't come in as expected, the IPO gives the company a second option," the source said.

The group, which owns an 85.6 per cent stake in the hospital unit, says the funds will be used to cut debt and support the hospital group's expansion.

Sources expect the foreign bidders to team up with local companies.

CVC, KKR and Temasek declined comment, while Metro Pacific did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, which bought a 14.4 per cent stake in the hospital unit in 2014, and has an option to boost its holding via an exchangeable bond, is open to paring its stake, the sources said. GIC declined comment.

Metro Pacific Investments is a unit of First Pacific Co Ltd, that is owned by Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim.