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A Multi-Billion Dollar IPO?

PricewaterhouseCoopers paved the way for what could be a multi-billion dollar IPO, filing a registration statement with the SEC to take its PwCC Ltd. Consulting unit public later this year.

The move is widely seen as designed to help the accounting giant protect itself from any potential Enron-like auditing fallout.

The Bermuda-based PwCC consulting operation, a giant in its own right with about 33,500 employees and $6.7 billion in fiscal 2001 revenues, already has begun the process of changing its name and brand identity, and expects to announce its new name prior to the offering, expected in August.

The stock would trade on the New York Stock Exchange. As is customary, the size and the estimated price of the IPO were not disclosed in the filing.

Morgan Stanley was listed as the sole underwriter to handle the offering, which could run upwards of $1 billion. Some speculative reports have said the IPO could eventually be worth up to $9 billion, which would make it the second largest initial public offering in history behind AT&T Wireless .

PwCC Consulting operates the management consulting and technology services businesses of the PricewaterhouseCoopers network of firms.

PricewaterhouseCoopers had said earlier that it would separate its consulting business as a way to avoid possible conflicts with its auditing business. General concerns have arisen about auditors' independence from clients to whom they provide consulting services, especially given the fall of Enron and the subsequent damage to Arthur Andersen.

"The primary purpose of this offering is to ensure that we will no longer be subject to the rules and regulations governing the independence of auditors from their clients and to eliminate any perceived conflicts of interest," PwCC said.

Income before partner distributions in 2001 was $424.2 million, compared with $604.1 million in 2000, according to the preliminary prospectus filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The IPO would follow similar separations by units at rival firms. Both Accenture , the former consulting arm of Arthur Andersen, and KPMG Consulting Inc. , a former unit of KPMG, went public last year.

Two years ago, Hewlett-Packard Co. had been in talks to acquire the consulting division of PWC, but the deal fell apart. PricewaterhouseCoopers is the world's biggest accounting firm with 150,000 employees and $23 billion in revenue.