KKR to buy Panasonic's health-care unit in $2.1b deal

TOKYO (REUTERS) - US private equity firm KKR & Co will initially pay about 165 billion yen (S$2.1 billion) for Panasonic's health-care unit, in what could be the largest buyout deal in Asia year to date.

As part of the deal, KKR will allocate a 20 per cent share in Panasonic Healthcare to Panasonic by March, said KKR and Panasonic in a joint statement. The final cost of KKR's investment in Panasonic Healthcare will be worked out by then, said a person with direct knowledge of the deal. An official at Panasonic declined to comment on the final price.

The New York-based private equity firm, which opened its Tokyo office in 2006, has been trying to buy non-core businesses from Japan's large companies. The deal with Panasonic would be KKR's largest investment in a Japanese firm.

Prior to the deal, KKR's only acquisition in a Japanese firm was Intelligence Holdings, a temporary staffing agency, which it sold earlier this year to another staffing agency.

Japanese companies are traditionally slow in going through drastic restructuring.

The sale of the health care unit to KKR would help Panasonic raise cash to strengthen its finances. The Japanese company will post a one-time gain of 75 billion yen from the deal.

Panasonic has already raised about 160 billion yen by selling buildings and stock holdings in companies, including Toyota Motor and Honda Motor.

Panasonic Healthcare makes blood sugar monitoring equipment and electronic medical record-keeping systems.

"Japan is a very important and attractive market for KKR, and our experienced team on the ground in Japan looks forward to leveraging KKR's global expertise and experience to make this a highly successful partnership," KKR founder Henry Kravis said in a separate statement.