Business / Corporate

SoftBank's Fortress emerges as white knight for hotel chain Unizo with $1.3 billion bid

Reuters

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

U.S.-based Fortress Investment Group will launch a tender offer from next week for all of Unizo’s shares at ¥4,000 apiece, the companies said in separate statements, trumping the ¥3,100 that 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.”

The move represents an unusual counteroffensive in Japan, where mergers and acquisition offers tend to be pre-agreed deals waiting to be rubber-stamped, and hostile bids like that made by H.I.S. remain rare.

“Our board of directors has decided to support the Fortress Group bid … and encourages shareholders to tender their shares,” Unizo said in a statement on Friday.

Fortress said it was seeking a minimum 66.67 percent stake and would drop the bid if it did not secure that.

H.I.S., which owns 4.79 percent in Unizo, launched a tender offer last month to raise its stake to as much as 45 percent.

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

The U.S. activist investor is known for buying stakes in companies in the midst of an acquisition and forcing better terms for minority shareholders.

A Hong Kong-based representative for Elliot declined to comment on the fund’s Unizo stake.

Fortress built its footprint in Japan by snapping up troubled hotels in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, when most investors shunned the sector.

Buying out Unizo, which operates limited-service hotels across Japan, would complement Fortress’s strategy. The investment firm controls Mystays Hotel Management Company, which operates hotels similar to the type run by Unizo.

Unizo shares closed up 16 percent at ¥4,165 on Friday before the Fortress bid was announced. That was more than a third above H.I.S.’s offer and just above the Fortress offer price.

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