April 18, 2019 / 4:21 PM / a month ago

Moody's advances in Acuris auction after Fitch pulls out - sources

LONDON, April 18 (Reuters) - Credit rating agency Fitch has pulled out of the bidding for financial media and data firm Acuris leaving rival Moody's as one of the strongest contenders to win the more than $1.30 billion deal, sources told Reuters.

Private equity owner BC Partners has shortlisted a handful of industry bidders to make binding bids for the London-based company which owns the Mergermarket and Debtwire brands, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Moody's has made it through to the second round of an auction process after failing to buy Acuris in 2013 when the business, a former subsidiary of the Financial Times Group, was sold by Pearson to BC Partners for roughly 380 million pounds ($493.96 million).

The U.S. ratings agency is now vying with ION Trading - a software provider for electronic trading, pricing and risk management - to win control, the sources said.

Fitch Ratings failed to secure the backing of its owner Hearst, the publisher of San Francisco Chronicle and Cosmopolitan, which pulled the plug on the deal due to its hefty price tag, the sources said.

Big buyout funds have also struggled to match BC Partners' price expectations and while most investors have walked away, the sources said some funds were allowed to progress in the auction, without naming them.

BC Partners, Moody's and Fitch Ratings declined to comment. ION Trading was not immediately available to comment.

Acuris, led by Chief Executive Hamilton Matthews, has a sprawling portfolio of financial news outlets and data products.

It employs about 1,300 staff and counts big investment banks among its most loyal subscribers.

Under BC ownership Acuris has bought a series of news outlets including private equity publication Unquote, raising its overall valuation to more than 1 billion pounds, the sources said.

In 2017, Singapore's sovereign wealth fund GIC bought about 30 percent of Acuris in a deal that sources said valued the entire company at about 1 billion pounds.

The deal is attractive for Moody's as it would provide access to a mix of content and data to enhance its own risk data and analytical portfolio, the sources said.

Moody's has been hunting for data companies in the past few years, clinching a $3.3 billion deal in 2017 to buy Dutch financial information provider Bureau van Dijk, which specialises in business intelligence and company information.

It also purchased the structured finance data and analytics business of SCDM, a Frankfurt-based provider of analytical tools, and subsequently set its sight on Acuris, previously known as The Mergermarket Group, when it was first auctioned off in 2013. ($1 = 0.7693 pounds) (Reporting By Pamela Barbaglia. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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