Elliott and Blackstone Enter Hostile Territory in Japan

Bloomberg (10/13/19) Ren, Shuli

Developer and hotel operator Unizo Holdings Co. is currently fighting off a hostile takeover bid that could shake up the Japanese market. Unizo, which has much of its office rental business in Tokyo, has seen its stock soar 128% since July, when it received an unsolicited tender offer from leading travel agency HIS Co. This was followed by a rival bid from SoftBank Group Corp. (SFTBY)-owned Fortress Investment Group, which was itself followed by a higher offer from private-equity giant Blackstone Group Inc. (BX). Though initially supportive of the Fortress offer, Unizo's board of directors has since demanded terms whereby a new owner will be unable to restructure or dissolve Unizo without the consent of employees. Employees would also determine whether the fund will exit and how it will do so—possibly through buybacks, strategic sales, or re-listing. Elliott Management, which has built a 13% stake in the company since August, has voiced its disappointment with these terms, which are unlikely to work for Blackstone or Fortress. If both deals fall through, Elliott will carry a significant loss and may not be able to call an extraordinary general meeting until January. The Fortress offer will expire Thursday. Foreigners who want control of Unizo may be fighting an uphill battle, because the company has shown a willingness to dilute its shareholders many times over to maintain its independence. Unizo is heavily indebted, and the stock trades at 1.4 times book value, but because Japanese developers do not account for valuation changes in their properties, the company's actual net asset value is more than twice its book value. This makes it an attractive deal for private equity, but only if Unizo allows the funds to divest assets and pay off debt.

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