UPDATE 2-Tenet Healthcare to buy Vanguard Health for $1.73 bln plus debt
* Offer of $21 per Vanguard share represents 70 pct premium
* Deal includes assumption of $2.54 bln debt
* Tenet estimates $100 mln-$200 mln annual savings
June 24 (Reuters) - Hospital operator Tenet Healthcare Corp will buy smaller rival Vanguard Health Systems Inc for about $1.73 billion plus the assumption of debt to expand into new geographies, further evidence of consolidation being driven by U.S. President Barack Obama's healthcare reforms.
U.S. hospital stocks have rallied this year as investors expect the companies to benefit as more Americans are covered by health insurance and hospitals lose less money treating the uninsured.
The offer of $21 per share, a premium of 70 percent to Vanguard's Friday close, represents the highest price for the stock since the company's initial public offering in 2011.
Vanguard, founded in 1997, was taken private by a group led by the Blackstone Group in 2004 and the private equity firm is still the largest shareholder with a 38 percent stake. Founder and CEO Charlie Martin holds 4.18 percent.
Vanguard shares were trading at $20.73 before the bell.
The deal includes the assumption of $2.54 billion of debt.
"It's a very smart deal for (Tenet) to be doing at this juncture and I think gaining the services of both Keith Pitts and Charlie Martin ... is crucial to this," said CRT Capital Group analyst Sheryl Skolnick, who has a "buy" rating on both companies. Pitts is the company's vice chairman.
Analysts said the premium paid by Tenet was reasonable, given the potential savings from the deal. Tenet said it expects the deal to add to earnings in the first year and estimates annual savings of $100 million to $200 million.
Tenet shares, which closed at $41.85 Friday, were trading up 6 percent in trading before the bell on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.
"This acquisition will take Tenet into new geographic markets, expand the breadth of our service offerings, diversify our earnings sources and increase the benefits we expect to realize under healthcare reform," Tenet CEO Trevor Fetter said in a statement.
Tenet operates 49 hospitals and 122 free-standing outpatient centers hospitals in California, Texas, Pennsylvania and several states in the U.S. Southeast.
Vanguard owns and operates 28 acute care and specialty hospitals in the U.S. Midwest, South and Massachusetts.
Gibson Dunn & Crutcher was Tenet's legal counsel and Lazard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays and Teneo Capital were financial and strategic advisers.
Vanguard was advised by J.P. Morgan. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom was legal counsel.
Tenet has secured fully committed financing from Bank of America Merrill Lynch for the deal that is expected to close by the end of the year.