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Hyatt negotiating acquisition of Starwood

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The Hyatt Hotels Corp. is in talks to acquire Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, two people briefed on the matter said, a combination that would create one of the largest lodging chains in the world.

Hyatt is preparing a cash-and-stock bid that could be announced within the next few weeks, said the people, who requested anonymity because the talks are private. The discussions may yet fall apart, they said.

Starwood did not respond to requests for comment and Hyatt declined to comment on the discussions.

A deal would be driven, in part, by the hoteliers’ growth struggles. Both Hyatt and Starwood have been hampered by several consecutive quarters of declining sales. An uncertain economic picture has caused global business travel spending to slow, while swings in the currency markets have also put a damper on travel.

A combination of Hyatt and Starwood could help the two chains better compete with their larger peers Marriott International and Hilton Worldwide, and give them a shot at earnings growth by compressing overlapping costs.

It is a lift that Starwood — whose brands include St. Regis, Sheraton, W and Westin — might need. The company on Wednesday reported a 19 percent decline in net income in the third quarter compared with the same period a year ago. But the growth troubles have been going on for some time. In February, after shares of Starwood trailed those of its peers, the president and chief executive, Frits van Paasschen, resigned. He was replaced on an interim basis by Adam Aron, a director since 2006.

Aron said in April that the company was evaluating options, including a sale, and had hired financial advisory firm Lazard to advise it on strategic alternatives. Since then, there has been increasing speculation about what Starwood would do. In July, the InterContinental Hotels Group was reported to be in talks to acquire Starwood, but those rumors were quashed by InterContinental. At least one Chinese company has sought approval from regulators to bid for Starwood, a person with knowledge of the matter said Wednesday. The name of the company was not disclosed.

On the Starwood earnings call Wednesday, Aron said the company is almost finished with its strategic review and he would be “surprised” if it did not have answers for inquiring analysts by the end of the calendar year.

Starwood has already started selling part of the company. It said Wednesday that Interval Leisure Group had agreed to buy Starwood’s time-share subsidiary, Vistana Signature Experiences, after the unit completes an already announced spinoff. The total value of Vistana is about $1.5 billion, according to a Starwood statement.

For Hyatt, acquiring Starwood would improve its global exposure. The majority of Starwood’s rooms are outside North America, while almost all Hyatt’s properties are in the United States. Hyatt could also help Starwood fix the Sheraton brand, which lags comparable Hilton and Marriott properties, according to C. Patrick Scholes, an analyst at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey.

“A new buyer has the opportunity to inject some new money and fresh ideas into that brand,” Scholes said.

But midscale chains, such as Hampton Inn (owned by Hilton) and Courtyard Marriott, have been the fastest-growing segment in the hotel industry, Scholes said. The deal between Starwood and Hyatt would not give the two much more exposure in the lower-priced hotel market. The Starwood brand Aloft fits into the category and is growing, but it is still small relative to the other brands, he said.

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