Starwood Hotels Retains Lazard to Explore Strategic Alternatives

NEW YORK ( TheDeal) -- Shares of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (HOT) climbed more than 8% Wednesday morning on the news that the hotel operator is exploring strategic alternatives.

The Stamford, Conn.-based hotel and resort operator announced Wednesday that it has retained Lazard to explore a full range of strategic and financial options.

Matthew Lustig of Lazard will be leading the review for Starwood, The Deal has learned. Starwood did not elaborate on which alternatives it will examine. But Bruce Duncan, chairman of the board, said in a statement that "no option is off the table. "We will take the time we need to thoroughly evaluate our opportunities and achieve the best result for our shareholders, business partners and associates," he said.

The board is in the early stage of the review, and no assurance can be given to its outcome or timing, Starwood said in the statement. The company's stock was up about 8.3% in early morning trading Wednesday at $87.69. Starwood has a market capitalization of around $15 billion. Starwood owns and operates a number of high-end leisure brands such as St. Regis, Westin, Sheraton, W Hotels and Le Méridien.

For the hotel and resort operator, the review comes after it announced plans to spin off its vacation ownership business in February. It also appointed a new CEO in February. Frits van Paasschen resigned as president, chief executive and director, and Adam Aron, who had been serving on the board since 2006, was appointed interim CEO. Starwood said then that the board will conduct a search for a permanent CEO that will include internal and external candidates. The hotel and leisure company also reported first quarter earnings Wednesday.

This year there have been a number of deals in the hotel and resort sector, Apollo Global Management (APO) agreed in March to sell Great Wolf Resorts to Centerbridge Partners for $1.35 billion three years after the private equity company bought the indoor water parks resort operator.

That secondary buyout came after Great Wolf was shopped for a year. Also in March, Leonard Green & Partners and TPG Capital agreed to take fitness center operator Life Time Fitness  (LTM) in a deal valued at more than $4 billion. Life Time's peer Town Sports International Holdings  (CLUB) is working with Deutsche Bank Securities to evaluate strategic options. Officials with Starwood Hotels could not be immediately reached for further comment Wednesday.

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