KKR Shares Fall in First Day of Trading

(Reuters) – Storied buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co (KKR.N) made its long-awaited debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, but the start was subdued and shares traded slightly below their opening price.

KKR’s move from Amsterdam-based Euronext to the NYSE means it finally catches up with rival Blackstone Group (BX.N), which went public in 2007.

The listing on the Big Board brings a wide investor audience to the private equity firm and could be a bellwether for rivals looking to follow suit.

KKR shares opened at $10.50, rose as high as $11.08 and then fell back, last trading at $10.40, down 1 percent. Blackstone shares were slightly higher, up $1.3 percent at $10.42.

“Today’s NYSE listing is an important milestone for KKR and will provide an opportunity for investors to share in the value being created by our firm,” Henry Kravis and George Roberts, co-founders and co-chief executives, said in a press release.

KKR has said the move will allow it to have a more permanent capital base, use stock to retain and attract staff, and have a currency to use in making acquisitions.

KKR executives are not selling any shares in the listing, but the firm previously announced plans to sell $500 million of new units after it lists, subject to market conditions.

Anticipation of that sale could be one reason for the stock’s fall on Thursday, said Sandler O’Neill analyst Michael Kim.

“Maybe people don’t want to step in front of that,” said Kim, who has a “buy” rating on the stock and a 12-month price target of $14. Kim added he was surprised that the stock had declined but said financials stocks in general were down on Thursday.

“If you look at the stock and what it did when it was trading in Europe over the past couple of weeks, it has had a good run, so maybe some of that initial enthusiasm was tempered by the fact it had run up a bit,” Kim said.

KKR, behind huge acquisitions such as RJR Nabisco and TXU, originally announced plans to list on the NYSE through a traditional initial public offering in July 2007, a month after Blackstone went public and just before the markets started to tumble.

It later followed a more complex route that involved buying its Amsterdam-quoted fund, KKR Private Equity Investors, becoming a Euronext-listed company and then applying to move the listing to New York.

The listing comes three years after rival Blackstone Group led the path for private equity firms going public. Blackstone shares are currently trading at about a third of their $31 IPO price.

Hot on KKR’s heels will also be the expected listing on the NYSE of Apollo Global Management APOLO.UL.

Kravis and Roberts, who co-founded the firm in 1976 with Jerome Kohlberg Jr., each own just under 13 percent of the total company, or 87 million shares each, valued at about $903 million at Thursday’s price.

The company has a total of 683 million shares, giving it a market capitalization of $7 billion. Blackstone has a market value of about $11.5 billion.

Kravis’ and Roberts’ ownership stake has gradually decreased as the company has grown. KKR has assets under management of about $55 billion and employs about 600 staff worldwide. Those employees own a significant portion of the company.

(Reporting by Megan Davies; editing by John Wallace, Lisa Von Ahn and Steve Orlofsky)