KKR & Co emerges as lead contender for Panasonic's healthcare unit

US private equity firm KKR & Co has emerged as a lead bidder for a majority stake in Panasonic Corp's healthcare unit worth around $1.5 billion.

KKR & Co is set to gain preferential negotiating rights for a majority stake in Panasonic's healthcare unit, Reuters today reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.

The troubled consumer electronics maker, which wants to end losses in its flat-panel television business, has hired Bank of America Merrill Lynch as advisors to the sale of its healthcare unit.

Panasonic, Japan's second-largest TV maker, wants to sell the entire business to one buyer, although it will also consider selling it off in parts.

Toshiba Corp and a consortium that included US private equity firm Bain Capital, Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co Ltd and the Development Bank of Japan were also bidding for the healthcare unit, the report added.

Panasonic's healthcare unit comprises of electronic medical chart systems, hearing aids and blood-sugar monitoring devices. It had reported an operating profit of 8.7 billion yen for 2012, on revenue of 134.3 billion yen.

Panasonic has in May deadline for first-round bids, and aims to narrow the field to two or three bidders in June, conduct a second round of bidding in July and enter exclusive talks with one suitor around August or September, several media had earlier reported.