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HCA shareholders OK $21.3b buyout

NASHVILLE -- HCA Inc. shareholders yesterday overwhelmingly approved a $21.3 billion leveraged buyout -- the second largest ever in the United States -- that will take the nation's number one for-profit hospital chain private.

Company officials said that 283.2 million shares, or 72.9 percent, were voted for the deal while 32 million, or 8.2 percent, were opposed.

The deal is the largest, excluding debt, since the $25.1 billion leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco Inc. in 1988, according to Thomson Financial. HCA said the sale could close as early as tomorrow.

It's not the first time HCA has turned from a public to private company, and it may not stay off the stock exchange for long. Analysts predict HCA could try to go public again within seven years because buyout investors will want to cash out at some point.

HCA chairman and chief executive Jack Bovender said after yesterday's vote that the company could seek another initial public offering in five years or more.

"I think that at some point in time, an IPO may make sense for us," he said. "Obviously we've taken on significant new debt and to create value in the company, we need to grow the business."

The company disclosed in July that its board approved the leveraged buyout offer by current HCA management and Hercules Holding II LLC, a consortium of private investment funds including Bain Capital Partners LLC, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., and Merrill Lynch Global Private Equity.

The deal also involves $16 billion in new debt and the assumption of $11.7 billion in existing debt.

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