the struggle for Starwood Hotels: Anbang vs. Marriott

I began following the lodging industry in the early 1980s.  It was an important time.  The US was completely covered with mid-range hotels.  Lodging companies were forced to look for growth in two ways:  segmenting the market (a sure sign of maturity) by adding luxury and no-frills chains; and expanding internationally.

Today, 30+ years later, the international hotel industry is a whole lot more mature. Growth in any form is hard to come by and where the big players are starting to buy each other to achieve market power by being bigger than remaining rivals.

That’s the rationale for Marriott (MAR) bidding for Starwood (HOT), a company about a quarter of its size.

The prize:

–the HOT reservation network

–the HOT loyalty program

–an extensive hotel network

–a skilled staff.

Cost savings from the combination, which MAR now estimates at $250 million, aren’t that big, given a bid for HOT of close to $14 billion.  This is all about obtaining a strong reservation network/loyalty program and achieving gains in relative market share.

a second bidder

Over the past weeks, a second has emerged–Anbang Insurance, a Chinese financial conglomerate.  It had expressed interest in HOT before but had hitherto been unable/unwilling to outline financing details.  Anbang is probably best known in the US for buying the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan for close to $2 billion last year.

Anbang cash vs. MAR stock

MAR is mostly offering its stock, with a little cash added.  Anbang, in contrast, is offering all cash.

Anbang’s cash is both a weakness and a strength.  The company is publicly listed only in China.  Restrictions on foreign ownership and on foreign trading make its equity completely unattractive to potential holders outside the mainland.  On the other hand, there’s no question about what the offered equity is worth.  Financial theory suggests that MAR’s management should only offer stock if it believes–and the MAR management is very shrewd–is overvalued vs. HOT’s.

value to each bidder

For MAR, HOT is a way to increase its market power in a mature industry.  For Anbang, HOT is a way to make a splash on the international scene, to get a vehicle for expanding/upgrading its hotel interests in China, and possibly taking a step toward stamping itself domestically as a national champion for technology transfer from the rest of the world.

My hunch is that HOT is more valuable to Anbang–a lot more–than to MAR.

industry consequences

A successful MAR bid is a step toward industry consolidation, implying sharper competition among remaining hoteliers and, possibly, somewhat higher prices for you and me when we travel.

Anbang success may mean less opportunity for foreign hotels in China but more competition elsewhere.