HNA Group Assets Attract Interest From Fosun, JD.com
(Bloomberg) -- Fosun Group and an arm of JD.com Inc. are among suitors considering investing in domestic operations of HNA Group Co. as the indebted Chinese conglomerate is reorganized after being placed under government control, people with knowledge of the matter said.
Ping An Insurance Group Co., Juneyao Airlines Co. and Air China Ltd. have also been studying HNA’s assets, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. Any deal could raise billions of dollars, the people said.
The once high-flying conglomerate plowed more than $40 billion into a raft of trophy assets around the world before being reined in by the government, which started taking control just over a year ago as the pandemic hit HNA’s remaining businesses.
The company still owns airlines, airports and retail assets in China. Some bidders could team up for an investment, and the structure of any potential transaction hasn’t been finalized, the people said.
Deliberations are ongoing, and there’s no certainty the potential investors will proceed with concrete offers, the people said. Representatives for Air China, HNA, Juneyao and Ping An Insurance declined to comment, while representatives for Fosun and JD didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Billionaire Guo Guangchang’s Fosun Group, founded in 1992, is a Chinese conglomerate with businesses spanning from pharmaceuticals and travel to retail and insurance. JD.com, one of China’s biggest e-commerce platforms, has expanded into health care and logistics. JD Logistics Inc. has won Hong Kong stock exchange approval for an initial public offering that could raise about $4 billion, Bloomberg News reported this week.
Juneyao Air, a privately owned airline based in Shanghai, said Thursday that it plans to invest 5 billion yuan ($772 million) in a joint venture which will buy airline assets but it didn’t provide any details. Separately, Caixin reported that HNA Group’s airlines assets are the target, citing an unidentified person.
Any disposal would come after HNA’s creditors earlier this year applied for the group to be reorganized.
Founded as an airline in the 1990s by entrepreneur Chen Feng with seed money from George Soros, the company emerged from near obscurity to mount a buying binge that saw it become the top shareholder of Deutsche Bank AG and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. It was once the poster child for a cabal of Chinese empire builders that borrowed rapidly to snap up trophy assets around the globe.
The spree eventually took HNA’s debt load to about $86 billion by the end of 2017. It began shedding assets in early 2018 amid pressure from the government, which had started to crack down on the activities of its biggest offshore acquirers to rein in financial risk and damage to China’s reputation. In December, HNA agreed to sell Ingram Micro Inc. for about $7.2 billion, its largest asset sale so far.
The Chinese government wants to return HNA to its roots as an airline and hence plans to dispose of HNA’s non-aviation assets through a trust, Bloomberg News reported in January. The conglomerate started looking for strategic investors for Shenzhen-listed CCOOP Group Co., which operates convenience stores, department stores, logistics parks and online financial services, according to a March announcement on HNA’s website. Its airport assets and airline business are also seeking strategic investors, separate statements on the website show. HNA Infrastructure Investment Group Co., which develops real estate projects including airport industrial parks, and Hong Kong-listed Hainan Meilan International Airport Co. are both owned by HNA.
HNA’s airline business is among China’s largest carrier groups, with stakes in Hainan Airlines Holding Co., Air Changan, low-cost carrier Beijing Capital Airlines Co., and Suparna Airlines, also known as Yangtze River Airlines Co., according to HNA’s website. The group also holds a majority stake in jet lessor Avolon Holdings Ltd. through its Bohai Leasing Co. unit.
Hainan Airlines reported a net loss of 2.6 billion yuan in the first quarter of 2021 after losing 64 billion yuan last year, according to its latest financial report.
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