HNA may sell stake in Spanish hotel after board shake-up

HONG KONG • HNA Group's grip on a US$2.2 billion (S$3 billion) Spanish hotel company is in doubt as a pile of debt comes due and China puts the squeeze on its most prolific acquirers.

The Chinese conglomerate owns about 30 per cent of Madrid-based NH Hotel Group.

But HNA is in limbo: Its directors have been booted off the board in a shareholder revolt, while Beijing's crackdown on overseas deals would obstruct any buyout that could bring NH Hotel to heel. Analysts anticipate a sell-out.

A sale of HNA's stake, which has a market value of more than €550 million (S$872 million), might attract European hotel operators or real estate funds, according to Oddo & Cie.

"HNA is better off selling the stake in NH," said Mr Todd Schubert, Bank of Singapore's head of fixed-income research. "As a 30 per cent owner, they really don't have any control. By selling, they would both get rid of an asset that is somewhat of a public-relations problem while also raise some much-needed liquidity."

NH Hotel was losing money when HNA invested in 2013. After a debt refinancing, NH Hotel returned to profit in 2015 and expects to generate net income of €100 million in 2019, based on targets announced in September.

But after HNA extended its hotel-buying spree, the Spanish alliance unravelled.

NH Hotel investors ousted HNA's four board representatives in June last year, claiming they were conflicted because HNA also agreed to buy competitor Rezidor Hotel Group. In September, a Spanish court reaffirmed that putsch.

The decision left HNA, even as NH Hotel's largest investor, with no say in how the business is run.

HNA may prefer to wait things out rather than sell.

Its ultimate goal may be to merge its Brussels-based Rezidor hotel group with NH Hotel. Such a combination "seems justifiable", said Banco BPI analyst Guilherme Sampaio. But HNA would first need to overcome both NH Hotel shareholders and opposition in Beijing.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2017, with the headline 'HNA may sell stake in Spanish hotel after board shake-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe