KKR completes merger with Amsterdam affiliate, becomes publicly traded

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) closed a long-awaited deal last week to buy its Amsterdam-quoted fund, becoming a Euronext-listed company and completing the first step towards an expected move to the New York Stock Exchange.

The New York-based firm—which has invested in such household names such as Toys R Us, mattress maker Sealy Corp. and asset manager Legg Mason Inc.—had been planning to follow rival The Blackstone Group (NYSE: BX) to become a publicly traded company for two years, but its plans were knocked down by economic turmoil.

KKR’s complicated deal to become a publicly traded entity involves combining with KKR Private Equity Investors (KPE), a Guernsey-limited partnership traded on Euronex. KPE was renamed KKR and the firm’s Euronex stock ticker will trade under the symbol KKR.

“Our mission is to create attractive returns for our investors,” co-founders Henry Kravis and George Roberts said in a statement. “This transaction is a milestone that will enhance this mission and provide capital to grow our firm.”

KKR is not issuing new shares under the deal and firm executives are not selling any interests.

KKR originally announced plans to list on the NYSE via a traditional IPO in July 2007, a month after Blackstone launched a $4 billion IPO and just before the markets started to tumble. Blackstone’s shares are currently trading at about half their $31 a share IPO price.

KKR later proposed a more complex method of going public, by combining with KPE. In June, it formally withdrew the proposed domestic IPO plan, but kept the door open for such a move, saying it had the ability to seek a listing in the future.

The firm has said in recent filings that, after the pair combine, either KKR or KPE have the right to require the other to use “reasonable best efforts” to list the combined business in the United States.

A move to a New York listing will likely be in the spring of 2010, a source familiar with the situation previously told Reuters.

Meanwhile, KKR appointed its first head of investor relations last week as it readied itself to become publicly listed. The KPE transaction is expected to be a nonevent for the stock, as the market has been aware of the transaction’s terms for some time, analyst Michael Kim at Sandler O’Neill said last week.

“Since the time that they announced the revised terms and indicated a high likelihood that the reverse merger would get approved, I think the [KPE] stock has essentially traded as a proxy for the overall KKR,” Kim said. —Megan Davies, Reuters