By Olivia Oran
(Reuters) - Hilton Worldwide Inc (BLKSHW.UL), the world's largest hotel operator, raised roughly $2.34 billion in its initial public offering on Wednesday after pricing shares toward the high end of the range.
Backed by private equity and real estate firm Blackstone Group LP (BX), Hilton priced its shares at $20. The company and existing shareholders sold 117.6 million shares. They had offered 112.8 million shares at an expected range of $18 to $21.
The Blackstone funds that bought Hilton are not selling any shares in the offering. Hilton Worldwide shares will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday under the ticker symbol "HLT."
Blackstone took Hilton private in 2007 for $26.7 billion, including debt, in one of the largest leveraged buyouts before the 2008 global financial crisis.
The IPO gives Blackstone an equity valuation of $19.7 billion.
Hilton's IPO was the second biggest float in 2013, behind oil pipeline holding company Plains GP Holdings LP, which raised $2.82 billion.
The U.S. hotel industry has been recovering, with room rates and occupancy levels expected to increase in 2014, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. The Dow Jones U.S. Hotels index has risen nearly 30 percent so far this year.
Blackstone's IPO plans for Hilton come as private equity firms sell or list assets to take advantage of a surging IPO market that has been spurred by a market rally and low interest rates.
Hyatt Hotels Corp (NYS:H) raised about $950 million in 2009 in what was then the largest hotel IPO.
Another Blackstone-backed hotel company, Extended Stay America Inc (STAY.N), raised about $565 million in November.
Blackstone also plans an IPO of hotel chain La Quinta, sources previously told Reuters.
The investment firm also listed Brixmor Property Group Inc (BRX.N) earlier this year.
The company said it would use the proceeds from the offering to repay $1.25 billion in debt.
The Hilton IPO comes after Blackstone refinanced about $13 billion of the hotel chain's debt.
Blackstone has invested in total about $6.4 billion in Hilton, and the 76.2 percent stake its funds will hold after the IPO would be worth about $15 billion, meaning it is on course to make more than 2.3 times its money.
Founded in 1919 by Conrad Hilton, Hilton's brands include such high-end names as Conrad and Waldorf Astoria.
Hilton, which operates in 90 countries, has more than 4,000 hotels and 670,000 rooms under its umbrella.
The company itself owns or leases 157 hotels, including the Waldorf Astoria in New York and the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Deutsche Bank AG (DBK.DE), Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley led the offering.
(Additional reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Gary Hill, Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler)