Life Healthcare Weigh Sale of India Hospital Chain Stake

  • Max Healthcare stake draws initial interest from PE firms
  • South African firm owns 49.7% of joint venture with Max India

Life Healthcare Group Holdings Ltd., the second-largest private hospital owner in South Africa, is considering a sale of its stake in India’s Max Healthcare Ltd., people with knowledge of the matter said.

The Johannesburg-based company is working with Barclays Plc to explore potential interest in its holding in Max Healthcare, which is one of India’s largest private hospital chains, the people said. Life Healthcare and Mumbai-listed Max India Ltd. each own 49.7 percent of the Indian firm, company filings show. Life Healthcare could seek about 5 billion rand ($406 million) for its stake, one of the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

The stake has drawn initial interest from private equity firms, the people said. Deliberations are at an early stage, and Life Healthcare could decide to remain invested in the company, according to the people.

India has one of the most underfunded public health-care systems among the world’s major economies, which has left as much as 70 percent of patients in private care. At the same time, political pressure to lower costs has hit hospital profits over the past year as the government imposed price controls on coronary stents and knee implants.

Shares of Life Healthcare have fallen 15 percent in Johannesburg trading over the past year, giving the company a market value of about $3.1 billion. Representatives for Life Healthcare and Max India didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. A representative for Barclays declined to comment.

Life Healthcare has invested a total of 2.9 billion rand in Max Healthcare, according to the South African firm’s annual report released in December. The Indian company has a network of 14 hospitals, spread mostly across the northern part of the country.

Max Healthcare’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization fell 5 percent to 1.33 billion rupees ($21 million) in the first half of the current financial year. Revenue for the six months ended Sept. 30 rose 9 percent to 14.1 billion rupees, impacted by regulations and other temporary issues, according to a filing.

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