Deals - Asia

Japanese investor Ichigo latest to disclose stake in Unizo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Ichigo Asset Management disclosed a 5.56% stake in hotel chain Unizo Holdings Co Ltd 3258.T on Tuesday, days after a SoftBank Group 9984.T firm swooped in with a $1.3 billion 'white knight' bid that investors see going higher.

Unizo said last week that it had received the friendly buyout offer from Fortress Investment Group, a move that would help it fight off a hostile bid from travel agency H.I.S. Co. 9603.T.

The Fortress offer represents an unusual counter-offensive in Japan and investors appear to be betting that it needs to sweeten its offer of 4,000 yen a share. Shares of Unizo closed more than 5% higher at 4,300 yen on Tuesday.

That’s well above the H.I.S. offer of 3,100 yen per share. However, UBS has calculated Unizo’s net asset value - a measure of an entity’s net value - at more than 7,800 yen a share after taxes.

Ichigo 2337.T said in a regulatory filing on Tuesday it acquired the stake to protect minority shareholders and that it might make significant proposals to Unizo.

U.S. hedge fund Elliott holds a 9.9% stake in Unizo, according to regulatory filings made by Elliott.

Elliot is known for buying stakes in companies in the midst of acquisitions and forcing better terms for minority shareholders.

The tug-of-war over Unizo marks a stark departure from most acquisitions in Japan, where takeovers tend to be pre-agreed deals waiting to be rubber-stamped. Unwelcome bids, like that of H.I.S., are particularly rare.

Unizo had said the H.I.S. bid lacked synergy and undervalued it.

Reporting by Junko Fujita; additional reporting by David Dolan; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu