HNA Group

HNA chairman Wang Jian’s death may accelerate firm’s sale of overseas assets, say analysts

Wang’s shares in the Chinese conglomerate likely to be reallocated, but main concern is the loss of a leader who set the firm’s business strategy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 1:37pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 11:28pm

The sudden death of HNA Group’s co-founder and chairman Wang Jian has raised questions about the shareholding structure and investment strategies of the Chinese conglomerate.

Analysts say they expect the company to speed up its sales of assets to repay debts that were largely built up during an overseas shopping spree led by Wang.

Wang, who died after falling 15 metres onto rocks in France on July 3, held a 15 per cent stake in HNA, making him one of the largest shareholders in the Hainan-based company.

HNA, the parent of Hainan Airlines, is controlled by two charitable organisations – Hainan Cihang Charity Foundation and Hainan Province Cihang Foundation (known as the Cihang Foundation) – that together hold a 52.25 per cent stake, according to a statement released by the group in July last year.

HNA Group chairman Wang Jian dies in 15-metre fall onto rocks while posing for a photo in France

The statement, addressed to the company’s employees, partners and customers, showed Wang and his co-founder and fellow chairman Chen Feng are the next-largest shareholders, each owning 15 per cent of HNA’s shares.

The group said in that statement that all individual shareholders including Wang and Chen “have pledged to donate all of their shares to the two charitable organisations upon resignation or death”. HNA expects the Cihang Foundation will one day own 100 per cent of the group.

The foundation’s stake will increase to 67.23 per cent if Wang’s shares are included. HNA was unavailable for comment when contacted by the South China Morning Post.

Analysts said the reallocation of shares would not affect the group’s operations in the short term. They are more concerned about HNA’s business strategy after the loss of a chairman who has been instrumental in setting the group’s long-term vision and goals.

“Even if the stake is transferred to the foundation, it’s not likely to bring too much change to the company and its corporate governance, because the foundation is still largely dominated by HNA,” said Wang Chen, a partner at Xufunds Investment Management in Shanghai.

“But HNA might accelerate its moves to get rid of overseas assets as Wang was the person who had previously led the firm’s overseas expansion.”

Wu Kan, a fund manager at Shanshan Finance in Shanghai, agreed.

“It won’t have a big impact on the company’s operation and the impact on investors is mostly psychological,” he said. “The disposal of its overseas assets will probably be accelerated as that’s something in the best interests of the company.”

In the latest move, Hong Kong-listed CWT International, a unit owned by HNA Group, announced on Thursday that it has agreed to sell its warehouses in Singapore for S$730 million (HK$4.3 billion). The buyer is HSBC Institutional Trust Services (Singapore) in its capacity as trustee of Mapletree Logistics Trust.

HNA Group, which Wang and Chen co-founded in 1993 in Hainan, has expanded its business from a regional airline company to a sprawling multinational with stakes in everything from aviation to hotels and finance. It was until recently China’s most aggressive overseas buyer, snapping up US$40 billion of assets in recent years.

However, it has been busy downsizing since late last year, after mainland regulators ordered HNA and other acquisitive companies like Anbang Group and Dalian Wanda Group to unwind their highly leveraged positions.

It has offloaded stakes in Hilton Worldwide Holdings for US$1.1 billion, a 25 per cent stake in Spain’s NH Hotel Group for US$726 million and an office tower in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for US$320 million.

Troubled HNA pledges luxury house on Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak for loan as it tries to repay debts

And to help pay off its debts, it emerged on Wednesday that the company is using a luxury house on Hong Kong’s exclusive Victoria Peak as collateral for a loan. It is also looking for a buyer to purchase the last of four plots of land it owns at the site of the city’s former Kai Tai airport.

Through its subsidiaries, it bought the four parcels for a total HK$27.2 billion between November 2016 and March last year.

Seven out of the eight mainland-listed units owned by HNA were suspended from trading after news of Wang’s death. HNA Innovation, the only unit that is trading now, tumbled 6.7 per cent to 3.79 yuan at the close in Shanghai on Thursday.

Its Hong Kong-traded arms also dropped. Hong Kong International Construction Investment Management Group slid 3.7 per cent to HK$1.80 yuan and CWT International fell 5.1 per cent to 24.2 Hong Kong cents. HNA Technology Investments Holdings fell 2.7 per cent to HK$2.88.