HNA Group, one of China’s largest global asset buyers spawned from the country’s largest privately owned airline and the majority shareholder of Africa World Airlines (AWA), has been declared bankrupt.
This comes after a government-led exercise to work out its debts failed to come up with money to repay bondholders and creditors, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.
From an airline with four planes, HNA Group grew into a conglomerate of hotels and global businesses with at least 1 trillion yuan (US$154.8 billion) of assets as recently as in 2017.
The company, based in the Hainan provincial capital of Haikou, was served with a petition on 29 January in the provincial High Court seeking its bankruptcy and for it to undergo a restructuring, HNA Group said in a statement on its WeChat account.
HNA Group, established in 1993, had ballooned into a global conglomerate with 290,000 employees by 2017.
The group started as Hainan Airlines, operating four aircraft to improve transport links between mainland China and its home base on Hainan island.
Fuelled by bank loans and armed with money earned from its aviation business, HNA Group went shopping, buying stakes in Hilton Hotels and Resorts, Deutsche Bank and Ingram Micro, among dozens of other brand name assets.
The acquisition spree came to an end in 2017 when China’s financial regulators, fearful of risks to the banking industry, cracked down on the debt-fed binge.
In February 2020, a working group comprising government officials representing the aviation regulator and Hainan provincial authorities was formed to restructure HNA Group’s finances.