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Starwood Hotels & Resorts has received a rival takeover bid worth about $14 billion from a group of investors led by a Chinese firm that's been quite active in buying up U.S. hotel properties, including the Waldorf-Astoria.
On the news, which broke before Monday's opening bell, Starwood shares surged about 7 percent in early trading on Wall Street. The complex offer from the Chinese group values Starwood at $81.50 per share.
In November, Starwood entered into a merger agreement with Marriott International, under which Marriott would acquire Starwood in a $12.2 billion stock and cash transaction.
But Starwood has received a waiver from Marriott enabling it to engage in discussions with the investor group in connection with its proposal. The Marriott waiver expires Thursday at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Starwood did not disclose the names of the companies that made the approach. But in a Monday press release, Marriott said the consortium was being led by China's Anbang Insurance Group, which bought the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City last year for $1.95 billion.
Patrick Scholes, lodging and leisure analyst at Suntrust Robinson Humphrey, told CNBC he did not see this unsolicited offer coming, and questioned whether U.S. regulators might present a problem. "Until these things are done, there's no guarantee that it will go through."
Marriott on Monday also said it remained committed to the Starwood deal, which would create the world's largest hotel company. Starwood said its board has not changed its recommendation in support of the Marriott deal.
Marriott said it's confident the previously announced deal is the best course for both companies.
"The bottom line here .... do you take what is the equivalent to $82 a share from Anbang and sort of take your quick profit and get out?" Scholes said. "Or do you stay with Marriott, which you get about the equivalent of $70 [per share] and you continue to believe in the lodging cycle and the synergies Marriott can create here."
Just days ago, Anbang cut a $6.5 billion deal with Blackstone Group for the Strategic Hotels & Resorts, whose portfolio has 16 properties with 7,532 rooms as well as meeting and banquet space.
Among the Strategic Hotels properties are Ritz-Carlton locations in California, the Fairmont Scottsdale in Arizona, and the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
— AP and Reuters contributed to this report.