April 29, 2020 / 1:05 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Blackstone buys $360 mln stake in Australia's Crown Resorts; shares soar

(Adds price of share sale, Melco's holding, background)

April 29 (Reuters) - Australia's Crown Resorts Ltd said on Wednesday that U.S. private equity firm Blackstone Group Inc had bought all of its shares held by Macau casino operator Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd, sending its share price soaring.

Crown said an entity controlled by Blackstone had bought about 67.7 million of its shares from Melco, which in February had shelved a bid to raise its holding in the Australian casino operator due to a drop in traveller numbers.

The shares were transferred at a price of A$8.15 each, putting the transaction value at A$551.6 million ($359.04 million), and representing a discount of 5.2% to the stock's last closing price.

The stake that changed hands represented about 9.99% of the issued capital of Crown. Based on Refinitiv data as of Feb. 6, the stake represents the entire holding of Melco's nominee.

Amid plunging traveller numbers due to curbs imposed to contain the new coronavirus, Melco scrapped its planned purchase of a second 9.99% stake in Crown from billionaire James Packer, in a deal that had already raised regulatory concern.

Since then, Crown's shares have slipped about 28.1% as of the last close, as Australia's travel curbs slammed casino's and kept away big-spending VIP Chinese tourists and even domestic players.

Following the announcement, Crown's shares surged as much as 12.3% to their highest level since March 6, against a 0.4% gain on the benchmark ASX200 index by 0022 GMT. ($1 = 1.5363 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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