Deals and IPOs

Why Blackstone's Hilton stake could be in play

Simon Hobbs

Analysts are refusing to rule out that a Chinese consortium might buy Blackstone's controlling 55 percent stake in Hilton Worldwide, following a story that was originally reported by the UK's Daily Mail overnight.

The reasons are threefold.

Guests stand outside of a Hilton hotel in San Francisco, Feb. 16, 2015.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In February, the hospitality firm closed the landmark $2 billion sale of New York's Waldorf Astoria to a Chinese insurer, for a staggering 32 times earnings.

And now that Beijing has loosened the rules on its financial giants investing abroad, they're heading here—and they're anxious to invest in high-profile commercial real estate. Just yesterday in Boston, China's two biggest insurance firms purchased a majority stake in the half-billion-dollar redevelopment of that city's waterfront.

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But what analysts are really focusing in on is the fact that Blackstone has, arguably, recently been hoarding what remains of its controlling stake in Hilton Worldwide, suggesting a deal with the Chinese might be in the works.

In the 16 months since the private equity giant refloated Hilton on the New York Stock Exchange, Blackstone has raised billions more by selling down its then-76 percent stake.

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But this quarter, analysts said the selling abruptly stopped. That seemed odd to Macquarie analyst Chad Beynon, because if Blackstone reduced its stake to 50 percent, Hilton could enter the S&P 500.

More importantly, Blackstone could be selling out with Hilton's stock at record levels above $30 a share.

At a 20 percent premium to current levels, however, the Chinese would have to cut a check for $20 billion to buy Blackstone's entire stake.

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That has led some, including Evercore ISI analyst Rich Hightower, to argue that it's more likely that Blackstone sells perhaps a 10 percent stake now, and edges out of the rest over the next 18 months or two years.

Neither Hilton nor Blackstone are commenting so far. Hilton shares were trading nearly 4 percent higher in Wednesday afternoon trading.