Itt Puts Some Moves On Hilton

SO MUCH FOR ITT chairman Rand Araskog's plans to spend his retirement years watching Patrick Ewing from courtside. Last week the embattled chairman finally responded to the two-week-old, $6.5 billion hostile bid from rival hotelier Hilton. ITT's board said ""No thanks'' and announced plans to sell off nonstrategic assets, which include Madison Square Garden, the Knicks and the Rangers. Though ITT's stock rose to $58.50 by Friday, many observers said Araskog's bow to the altar of shareholder value was a bit late. ""The question is, where was Araskog when ITT stock was at $42?'' says Invesco Strategic Leisure Fund manager Mark Greenberg, who holds both stocks.

Hilton insists ITT's yard sale doesn't change its plans at all: it still hopes to negotiate a friendly deal with ITT, owner of Sheraton Hotels and Caesars World casinos, but will take its case to shareholders if ITT keeps balking. For now the focus is on how much the bankers get for the Garden. Araskog paid more than a half-billion dollars for ITT's stake in the Garden; if he sells it for less, shareholders will fume. But there are potential buyers out there, like Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Aside from the selling spree, expect a more creative defense from ITT's side--and settle into your seat. ""We're only in the bottom of the first inning,'' says Hilton shareholder Kenneth Londoner of J.W. Seligman. Araskog and his high-priced bankers had better start swinging for the fences sometime soon.