Sunday, October 3, 2010

HCA public offering may wait until 2011

With the market for companies selling new stock to the public coming off its best quarter this year, could the initial public offering planned by HCA Inc. be far behind?
It's not likely to occur before year-end, suggests Michael A. "Trey" Crabb III, president of Nashville-based Health Strategy Partners LLC, an advisory firm.

"The equity market is less receptive to new hospital IPOs right now, evidenced in part by Community Health Systems and LifePoint Hospitals both initiating stock buybacks in recent weeks," Crabb said, referring to moves by two rival hospital chains based here. "This activity is typically a contra-indication for new equity issues in the same sector."

Translated, that means some companies decide to buy back shares of their own stock to lend support to the price when investors' interest is a little thin in their industry.

Since filing papers for an initial public stock offering six months ago to raise up to $4.6 billion, HCA has yet to take important additional steps such as making a subsequent filing that would disclose at what price it plans to sell shares.

"We continue to assess the timing of the launch based on overall market conditions, sector performance, input from our underwriters and any other factors that might be relevant," CEO Richard M. Bracken said during HCA's last quarterly conference call with analysts.

Ed Fishbough, HCA's spokes man, declined to comment further this week. He said the company is in a "quiet period."

But since Bracken's comments, the overall U.S. stock market has improved, including stocks' coming off their best September in more than 70 years. That has helped fuel a growing appetite for new stock issues with 33 U.S.-registered companies going public during the third quarter, including seven in the past week alone, according to data from investment website

"The bulls have been on the run since beginning of the quarter, and they've taken the IPO market with them," said John E. Fitzgibbon Jr., publisher of the website.

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