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China banks that funded HNA's growth are said to halt new loans

Monday, July 24, 2017 - 14:23

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Several Chinese banks that helped fund HNA Group Co's global acquisition spree are losing their appetite for financing the company, according to people familiar with the matter.

[BEIJING] Several Chinese banks that helped fund HNA Group Co's global acquisition spree are losing their appetite for financing the company, according to people familiar with the matter.

Three of the banks have decided to stop extending new loans to HNA, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. One made the decision early this year, the second acted a couple of months ago and the third moved recently, the people said. A fourth bank trimmed its exposure to the company over the past few months and reduced the size of a credit line, one of the people said, without providing further details. The four lenders were among the eight largest providers of credit lines to HNA as of 2015, according to the latest publicly-disclosed figures.

HNA, one of China's most acquisitive companies, took on at least US$73 billion of debt as it transformed from an obscure regional airline into a worldwide conglomerate with multi-billion dollar stakes in Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc and Deutsche Bank AG. While HNA has cash on hand and there's no indication that the four banks have rebuffed requests for new funding or demanded early repayment, a dearth of fresh credit could further restrain HNA's ambitions as Chinese regulators clamp down on the offshore deals to stem capital outflows and shore up the yuan.

The pullback by Chinese lenders began even before news emerged that authorities had started scrutinizing some of the country's most active overseas dealmakers. Last month, regulators began assessing the dangers to China's banking system posed by HNA and other prolific acquirers, including Fosun International Ltd and billionaire Wang Jianlin's Dalian Wanda Group Co.

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President Xi Jinping signed off on a decision to bar state-owned banks from making new loans to Wanda for its overseas expansion, according to a Wall Street Journal report. At a twice-a-decade conference on financial regulation convened by Mr Xi this month, policy makers pledged to rein in corporate borrowing and said that preventing systemic risk was an "eternal theme." HNA, which has announced more than US$40 billion of acquisitions spanning six continents since the start of 2016, said its financial position remains "strong" and noted that its debt-to-asset ratio decreased for a seventh straight year in fiscal 2016.

"We have always managed HNA so that we aren't reliant on a single source of funding for our business," the company said. "We have strong cash flow from our diverse operations, untapped credit available from a wide range of Chinese lenders, and access to equity markets through our many publicly-traded subsidiaries." While HNA's financial disclosures are limited because the parent company is unlisted, its annual report to bondholders provides some balance sheet details and information on its relationships with banks.

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