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SoftBank's Fortress makes US$1.3b bid for hotel chain Unizo


JAPANESE hotel chain Unizo Holdings said it has received a friendly buyout offer worth up to US$1.3 billion from a SoftBank Group investment firm, a deal that will help it fend off a hostile takeover bid from travel agency H.I.S. Co.

US-based Fortress Investment Group will launch a tender offer from next week for all of Unizo's shares at 4,000 yen (S$52.19) apiece, the companies said in separate statements, trumping the 3,100 yen H.I.S. has offered.

Unizo has publicly opposed the H.I.S. bid, saying it lacked synergy and undervalued the hotel chain. The Nikkei daily earlier reported that the hotel operator had sought help from Fortress as a "white knight". This represents an unusual counter-offensive in Japan, where M&A offers tend to be pre-agreed deals waiting to be rubber-stamped; hostile bids like that of H.I.S. are rare.

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Unizo said on Friday: "Our board of directors has decided to support the Fortress Group bid ... and encourages shareholders to tender their shares."

Fortress said it was seeking a minimum 66.67 per cent stake and would drop the bid if it did not secure that. H.I.S., which owns 4.79 per cent in Unizo, launched a tender offer last month to raise its stake to as much as 45 per cent.

Elliott Management has been gradually raising its stake in Unizo and now holds 9.9 per cent, regulatory filings show.

Unizo shares closed up 16 per cent at 4,165 yen on Friday, before the Fortress bid was announced. REUTERS