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China's HNA says creditors have filed for its bankruptcy

Hainan Airlines parent says on WeChat that it has received a court notice

Before COVID, HNA Group retrenched to focus on operating Hainan Airlines and other tourism-related businesses.   © Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) -- China's HNA Group's creditors have applied to a Chinese court for the company, once a highly-acquisitive conglomerate, to be placed in bankruptcy and restructured, it said on Friday.

HNA Group said in a WeChat post it received a notice from a Hainan court that its creditors had acted because it was unable to pay its debts.

It said it would cooperate with the court and actively promote disposal of its debts.

HNA Group was once one of China's most aggressive deal making firms. It used a $50 billion global acquisition spree, mainly fueled by debt, to build an empire that once spread from Deutsche Bank to Hilton Worldwide. Its flagship carrier is Hainan Airlines.

But its spending drew scrutiny from China's central government and overseas regulators, prompting the company to sell many of its purchases, such as airport services company Swissport and electronics distributors Ingram Micro to focus on its airline and tourism business.

It had 706.7 billion yuan ($109.78 billion) in debts at the end of June 2019, the last bond report it made public that year showed. It has not given an update since.

Its largest creditor is the state-backed China Development Bank (CDB), which also chairs the company's creditor committee. CDB did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CAAC News, the news portal run by China's aviation regulator, said HNA will lower its debt levels through measures such as converting debt to equity or rollovers to guarantee investors' interests. It also hopes to attract fresh equity from new strategic investors.

It said three of HNA's listed units have applied for bankruptcy and restructuring, which will require approvals from China's securities regulator and courts.

HNA declined to comment.

The Hainan government has been involved in the company's debt issues since February last year, after HNA asked authorities to lead a work group to resolve its liquidity risks when the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed travel demand and hit the company's cash flows.

Last week, the company said that it was moving to the next stage of resolving its multi-year liquidity crisis as the government-led team had finished its due diligence.

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