History's largest leveraged buyout, a $33 billion bid for hospital operator HCA ( HCA), might get even bigger. Private equity heavyweight Blackstone Group is eying a counter bid for HCA, according to several published reports. Investment bankers who aren't involved in the $33 billion bid for HCA, which was offered on Monday by Bain Capital, Kohlberg Kravitz Roberts and Merrill Lynch ( MER), are already working hard on financing plans for other bidders, according to sources. Normally, it would be difficult for Wall Street banks to come up with the financing to put together a competing bid for a deal the magnitude of the HCA buyout. But in today's market, with so much money sloshing around in private equity funds, and commercial banks more than willing to make hefty loans, anything is possible. "There are plenty of banks in the world and many of them have the appetite, interest and professionalism to be involved in this financing," says one strategist who asked not to be mentioned because of the possibility of his bank being involved in the HCA deal. "But these kinds of financings carry substantial risks." The current bid includes a $6 billion cash investment by the three private equity investors and $15 billion in new debt, through a combination of bank loans and bonds. The deal calls for the buyout group to assume HCA's $11.7 billion in existing debt. Of course, for Blackstone or any other private equity firm to step up to the plate and beat the current HCA bid, it will take a bit of ingenuity. That's because a number of big banks are already committed to the $33 billion deal. Three of Wall Street's most aggressive lenders, Bank of America ( BAC), JPMorgan ( JPM) and Citigroup ( C), have agreed to provide financing to Bain, KKR and Merrill. Merrill Lynch has also agreed to loan money to the team.
If Blackstone or any other party comes forward with a bid, they'll also need a new partner. Goldman Sachs ( GS), Deutsche Bank ( DB) and HSBC ( HBC) are just a few of the large banks left out of the line-up. Private equity firms usually make money by buying a company and cutting costs or reforming the business over a number of years. Depending on the investment, the private equity firm often will pay itself a dividend each year for its work, then sell the restructured business for more than the purchase price. With more than $250 million in potential banking fees at stake in financing an HCA buyout, investment bankers at other firms are fighting for lending spots on Blackstone's team, sources say. "There is so many players that are willing to lend in this environment," says Gregory Peters, U.S. credit strategist at Morgan Stanley. "But the HCA deal is slated to tap the markets with the single biggest loan deal in history and the single biggest high-yield (bond) deal in history. Our view is that the markets will allow one or two deals of this size, but after that, you really are starting to tax the system."