There has been a flurry of news regarding HNA in the past few months, and all of it has only underscored the bizarre twists and turns the company has taken over the past years to reach the top. The company’s expansion and overseas acquisitions in the past three years have been driven almost wholly by debt, and recent moves by the company signal that the conglomerate is unable to meet its obligations. At the same time, HNA is still pursuing high-profile global investments and acquisitions. All this news has left many analysts perplexed, and it’s unclear if HNA has any real plans to move forward.
HNA’s rapid expansion across the world was completed primarily through over $40 billion in acquisitions, but this left the company with $28 billion in short-term debt. As early as June, HNA’s interest expenses reached $2.359 billion, exceeding company earnings. To make matters worse, it’s short-term debt has already surpassed its liquidity.
HNA’s short-term debt has already surpassed its liquidity
It doesn’t appear that the conglomerate has a coordinated strategy from the top to address these issues. However, many subsidiaries, including airlines, are doubling down on the strategy that is currently causing the crisis at HNA.
On Wednesday, Hainan Airlines Holding Co., the operator of HNA’s flagship Hainan Airlines, canceled plans for the sale of 363-day bonds at a rate of 8.875 percent announced in November. Another airlines subsidiary, Tianjin Airlines, is still planning to go through with plans to offer $151.2 million in bonds. Yunnan Lucky Air sold 270-day bonds last week with an 8.2 percent yield.
Bond sales at rates this high indicate that the financial situation of HNA’s airlines is much direr that executives are willing to let on, and this holds true for the vast array of non-airline HNA subsidiaries that are trying to engage in the sale of these high-yield bonds.
Of course, this fiduciary crisis isn’t merely a strain on the long-term viability of HNA’s airlines. It’s directly affecting the day-to-day operations of these airlines.
HNA has failed to make payments on leased aircraft for months
Aergo Capital recently disclosed that HNA has failed to make payments on its leased aircraft for the past two to three months. CEO Fred Browne says that Aergo isn’t the only lessor that hasn’t received payments and HNA is currently running the risk that lessors will simply reclaim their aircraft from HNA’s subsidiaries. Moreover, S&P has cut the long-term corporate credit rating of HNA-owned airport services firm Swissport from “B” to “B-.”
The potential damage of HNA’s debt to its core business of air travel is hard to understate.
HNA seems currently unable to even maintain its core business of air travel
If HNA’s subsidiary airlines, the conglomerate’s core business, cannot meet even its most basic financial obligations, it’s unclear how long the airlines can continue to operate. A cutback of services or an outright departure from the air market would cause substantial market upheaval.
This is especially significant in regards to Hainan Airlines, a major player in the Chinese air travel market and arguably China’s best airline being the only Chinese airline with a Skytrax rating of five stars. Of course, it is unlikely that any of HNA’s airlines would cease to operate altogether, rather an acquisition by a rival seems more probable.