HNA's Virgin Australia Stake Is Said to Draw Bidder Interest

(Bloomberg) -- HNA Group Co.’s minority stake in airline Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. is drawing interest from potential bidders as the Chinese conglomerate offloads non-core assets to reduce debt, according to people familiar with the matter.

The approximately 20 percent stake could attract bids from existing shareholders in the company as well as other airlines and investment funds if HNA decides to pursue a sale, the people said, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are private. While the group is open to offers, it isn’t actively working on selling its holding, one of the people said.

Singapore Airlines Ltd. and Nanshan Capital, which each control about a fifth of Virgin Australia’s shares, are among the companies weighing a bid, the people said. The Australian airline has a market value of about A$1.9 billion ($1.4 billion) after its shares dropped about 20 percent this year through Thursday. Singapore Airlines is majority owned by sovereign fund Temasek Holdings Pte.

More than 90 percent of Virgin Australia’s shares are controlled by five investors, according to the company’s last annual report. In addition to HNA, Singapore Airlines and Nanshan, they include Etihad Airways PJSC and Corvina Holdings Ltd., according to the report.

A representative for HNA didn’t immediately have a comment. Representatives for Virgin Australia and Singapore Airlines declined to comment on speculation. Nanshan didn’t immediately respond to calls and and email.

HNA is selling off assets after racking up one of China’s biggest corporate debt loads in a global acquisition spree. It sold out of the Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. and its stake in NH Hotel Group SA. The Chinese company also agreed to sell the Radisson hotel chain this year, as well as a stake in aircraft leasing firm Avolon Holdings Ltd.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Manuel Baigorri in Hong Kong at mbaigorri@bloomberg.net;Vinicy Chan in Hong Kong at vchan91@bloomberg.net;Steven Yang in Beijing at kyang74@bloomberg.net

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With assistance from Editorial Board