May 15, 2020 / 8:55 AM / 14 days ago

Ashmore shows interest in deal to run NMC hospitals - sources

DUBAI (Reuters) - Emerging markets-focused investment manager Ashmore Group (ASHM.L) has shown interest in a contract to operate troubled NMC Health’s chain of hospitals in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), two sources close to the matter told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: General view of an NMC specialty hospital in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo

The British company’s approach excludes any acquisition of NMC Health, the London-listed holding company that was placed into administration last month after months of turmoil, one of the sources said.

Ashmore, whose private-equity arm focuses on healthcare sector, is among a number of potential bidders seeking a deal to run the hospitals, both sources said.

The investor already has a presence in the UAE after King’s College Hospital London was brought to Dubai through a joint venture with Al Tayer Group, Dubai Investments and Ashmore.

NMC, which was founded by Indian businessman BR Shetty in the mid-1970s, became the largest private healthcare provider in the UAE but has run into trouble after short-seller Muddy Waters questioned its financial reporting and doubts emerged over the size of stakes owned by its biggest shareholders.

NMC, which has borrowed from 80 local and international banks, disclosed $6.6 billion in debt in March, up from $2.1 billion in June last year.

Ashmore and Alvarez & Marsal, the joint administrators of NMC Health, declined to comment.

Interest in running NMC’s hospitals comes after the administrators kick-started the process to sell NMC Trading, the holding company’s distribution arm, sources said.

In an internal memo sent to NMC employees late Thursday, the acting Chief Executive Officer Michael Davis said the hospital operator has been considering selling NMC Trading for quite some time.

“We have initiated the process and it is progressing well, which will reduce our working capital investment and ensure we are stronger financially,” according to the memo.

However, Davis denied media reports that NMC is also looking to sell other parts of its business.

“No decision have been made in this regard. If any such decisions are made, I will inform you directly at the appropriate time,” he told employees.

Davis said the company will be open and transparent with any affected individuals, as soon as a decision is made.

A spokesman for NMC Healthcare confirmed it is in the process of exploring various options for NMC Trading (UAE), which it considers non-core.

“The management team’s priority is to stabilise the business and ensure continuity of care at its hospitals and medical centres,” the spokesman said in an email.

NMC did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on how many employees will be affected under the discussed plan.

The group’s distribution business is separate from its main hospital and medical centres business in the UAE.

Additional reporting by Simon Jessop and Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru, Editing by David Goodman and Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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