February 14, 2018 12:06 pm JST  (Updated February 14, 2018 2:39 pm JST)

HNA executives buy offshore dollar bonds amid credit crunch

An office building of HNA Group in Jinan city in Shandong Province © AP

HONG KONG (Reuters) -- China's debt-laden HNA Group said some of its board directors and senior managers have bought offshore dollar bonds guaranteed by the conglomerate - the latest in a series of measures it is taking to shore up its finances.

HNA did not give the names of those buyers in the statement, nor the value of the dollar bonds purchased. It declined to provide any additional information when contacted by Reuters.

After announcing $50 billion of deals over two years, HNA was, like other Chinese conglomerates, hit by increased scrutiny of its finances as Beijing grew wary of what it saw as some irrational acquisitions.

HNA has since said it would sell some of its assets, and this week it announced a $2 billion deal for two Hong Kong land parcels. Sources have said it is in talks with creditors about its outstanding loans.

In its Wednesday statement, the group said it was in a "very healthy financial position" with total assets of 1.5 trillion yuan ($236 billion) at end-2017, and that the staff purchased the bonds due to "full confidence" in its business prospects.

In the last couple of years, HNA and its group units have issued a slew of bonds, both in China and overseas, to finance some of its acquisitions as well as to refinance some of its maturing debt obligations.

Hainan Airlines Holdings, the group's flagship firm, has bonds issued worth $4.8 billion, denominated in both Chinese yuan and U.S. dollar, according to Thomson Reuters data. About $1.5 billion worth of bonds will mature in 2018.

HNA Group itself about $16 billion worth of bonds issued, of which $2.4 billion will come up for repayment this year and $4.8 billion in 2019, the data showed. A $52-million tranche, issued offshore, will come up for repayment on July 18, 2018.

In November, the group sold a short-dated bond at a coupon of 9 percent, higher than the 8 percent yield indicated on its December 2018 bond, in a sign that it was under pressure to refinance its debt-laden balance sheet.

The yield for one of the group unit's three-year, December 2018 bond has nearly tripled from a year-ago period, underscoring investors' concerns and significantly raising its future borrowing costs.

In December, senior executives of HNA agreed to purchase $13 million worth of shares in another group subsidiary Bohai Capital Holdings to bolster "investor confidence" and promote stability at the firm.

Bohai Capital is one of the many Hainan-based HNA's listed units that have suspended trading in their shares since November pending announcements.

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