Hainan Airlines Seen As Attractive To New Investors Despite HNA Group Crisis
HNA Group's flagship arm, Hainan Airlines Holding Co Ltd, is operating normally and could draw in new investors despite a bankruptcy filing, embezzlement charges and large asset impairments for the carrier last week, some analysts have said.
A strong route network, high brand value and an experienced management team as well as restructuring efforts by China's number four carrier were among the reasons cited.
HNA units, including the airline, will spend this year negotiating to bring in strategic investors, a HNA Group executive told Reuters. The executive was not authorised to speak publicly on the matter and declined to be identified.
Chinese financial publication Caixin has also reported strong interest from potential suitors in the airline, although it did not name them. It said that Hainan Airlines, which is the country's biggest non state-owned carrier, aims to remain independent.
Hainan Airlines declined to comment on potential investment.
"Hainan Airlines itself should be fine," Chinese aviation expert Li Xiaojin said. "It is most likely Hainan Airlines will continue to operate, but there might be a change in ownership."
Hainan said in a message sent to customers in its loyalty programme that the reorganisation will not have any significant impact on its daily operations, as it is aims "to resolve financial and debt issues in accordance with the law."
HNA Group creditors applied to a Chinese court on Friday January 29, asking that the company be placed in bankruptcy and restructured. The airline, which has warned that it could be delisted if declared bankrupt, saw its shares plunge 9.8% on Monday February 1, valuing it at approximately $3.6 billion.
Like much of the global airline industry, Hainan Airlines has been reeling amid the coronavirus pandemic, but financial woes have compounded its problems.
Its domestic traffic halved last year, which was steeper than declines of 19.2% to 32.7% for its state-owned rivals.
It also expects to slide deep into the red, estimating a net loss of 58 billion yuan to 65 billion yuan ($9 billion-$10 billion) for 2020. That includes 46 billion yuan in impairments.
By comparison, China Southern Airlines Co Ltd, China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd and Air China Ltd have predicted losses of 7.9 billion yuan to 15.5 billion.
Others were somewhat more cautious about Hainan Airlines' ability to woo investors amid the pandemic.
"In any stronger market landscape, we can say Hainan might be quite attractive given its network and general demand, but the pandemic has obviously flipped the script entirely," transportation analyst at BOCOM Luya You said.
Hainan Airline has a fleet of 220 planes.