Singapore-listed IHH eyes $5.7b bid for Australia healthcare firm: source

SYDNEY (Reuters) - IHH Healthcare, Asia's largest hospital operator by market value, is considering making a A$5 billion (S$5.7 billion) offer for Australian healthcare firm Healthscope, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

The purchase would mark Malaysian-based IHH's first foray into Australia, where demand for healthcare services is growing rapidly due to an ageing population. It would also offer a swift and lucrative exit for United States buyout firms TPG and Carlyle Group, which paid A$1.99 billion for Healthscope in 2010.

Healthscope executives and lead bankers Macquarie Group and UBS AG recently met potential buyers in Asia, the person familiar with the matter said, adding that TPG and Carlyle had set a deadline for indicative bids in April.

TPG and Carlyle are also considering taking Healthcare public, said the person who declined to be identified due to the confidentiality of the process.

News of the potential IHH purchase was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

When asked to comment, IHH said in a statement that it was"always looking at various value accretive opportunities to add to its portfolio". TPG and Carlyle declined to comment.

Earlier this year, Healthscope said it was considering several options for a sale process to cash in on strong demand for quality healthcare assets.

Stocks in Australian private health operators have surged so far this year, with Ramsay Health Care up almost 14 per cent and Sonic Healthcare gaining over 7 per cent, compared to a 1 per cent gain in the broader index.

IHH is 45 per cent owned by Malaysian sovereign fund Khazanah Nasional and joint-listed in Malaysia and Singapore. It operates hospitals across Asia and in Turkey, according to its website.

Earlier this year, TPG hired Ganen Sarvananthan, the former head of investments at Khazanah, as a partner and managing director in Asia.

Healthscope, which owns 44 private hospitals in Australia and pathology operations in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand, reported A$328 million in operating earnings before finance costs, income tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) for the year ending June 2013.