By Michael Erman, Diane Bartz, Arunima Banerjee and Sayantani Ghosh
(Reuters) - Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc on Friday said a $13 billion cash offer from China's Anbang Insurance Group Co was superior to one from Marriott International Inc , setting the stage for the largest ever deal by a Chinese company in the United States.
The operator of Sheraton and Westin hotels said the Chinese insurer's offer beat Marriott's previously agreed cash and stock offer by nearly 15 percent, and that it planned to scrap the proposed deal with the rival hotel chain.
Anbang has been on a U.S. hotel buying spree as Chinese insurers rush to acquire high-yielding assets as they struggle to keep up with the policy liabilities of the country's aging population. U.S. assets are also seen as a good hedge against weakness in the Chinese yuan.
The Anbang-led consortium - which also includes private equity firms J.C. Flowers & Co from the United States and Primavera Capital from China - has bid $78 per share in cash, or $13.16 billion overall, based on shares outstanding as of Feb. 19.
At Thursday's close, Marriott's bid for Starwood was worth $68.06 per share, or around $11.5 billion overall.
Starwood's shares were up 4.7 percent at $79.99 in midday trading, their highest level since November.
Marriott, which has until March 28 to counter Anbang's offer, said it was considering its options. [nPn5RVBT]
Dan Wasiolek, a hotel industry analyst at Morningstar, said Marriott could still counter with a higher offer.
"Marriott can increase their offer because they have the balance sheet flexibility," he said, suggesting the larger rival hotel company could sweeten its offer by $700 million in cash.
If Anbang's offer is successful, it would boost the company's reputation as one of China's top corporate acquirers, adding Starwood with its nearly 1,300 hotels in about 100 countries.
The offer follows Anbang's $6.5 billion deal struck last week for Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc and its $2 billion purchase of New York's iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel last year. [nL1N16K0OQ]
The U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency panel that reviews deals to ensure they do not harm national security, will look at Starwood's several hundred U.S. hotels to see if any are close to critical facilities, said Stephen Heifetz, a partner with law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP, who has experience of CFIUS reviews.
In 2012, CFIUS ordered the purchase of a wind farm in Oregon to be reversed because it was too close to a naval base.
Heifetz said this was unlikely in this case.
"I'd be surprised if there were any deal-killer for a large multi-property location," he said, although he warned that the companies might have to make some concessions to get the deal through.
Other CFIUS experts have said previously that U.S. regulators might be concerned about a Starwood property, the W Hotel in downtown Washington, which overlooks the U.S. Treasury Department and the White House.
Starwood shareholders will also receive stock in Interval Leisure Group Inc , which is buying Starwood's vacation ownership business for about $5.67 per Starwood share.