FRANKFURT (Reuters) - China’s HNA Group [HNAIRC.UL] is considering an initial public offering (IPO) or sale of cargo handler Swissport as the cash-strapped conglomerate seeks to fix its finances, people close to the matter said.
A process to list or sell Swissport could start as early as the second quarter, they said, adding that HNA was hoping to secure a valuation of at least 2.7 billion Swiss francs ($2.84 billion) for the firm, the price they paid for it in 2015.
Rothschild (ROTH.PA) was advising HNA, they added.
HNA was not immediately available for comment. Rothschild declined to comment.
Swissport has annual sales of 2.7 billion euros and provides ground services for more than 230 million passengers, handling 4.3 million tonnes of cargo a year for 835 aviation clients.
HNA Group Chairman Chen Feng said last week he was confident China’s aviation-to-financial services conglomerate would manage its cash crunch, and would continue to receive support from banks and other financial institutions this year.
It was a rare acknowledgment by a top company official that HNA was facing financing problems.
Chinese banks have privately and publicly voiced concern after HNA failed to repay some obligations, including aircraft lease payments, and as surging debt drove up the cost of the group’s short-term fund raising to new highs.
HNA said on Wednesday it had passed compliance checks of several global banks, a rare bit of good news for a firm facing global regulatory scrutiny of its governance and ownership.
HNA was expected to wait until its IPO of Swiss caterer Gategroup was executed before proceeding with any Swissport deal, the sources said.
Swissport also needed to close its acquisition of Australian ground handler Aerocare, expected by the end of the first quarter, they added.
A venue for the Swissport IPO has not yet been decided but Zurich and New York were being considered, one of the sources said.
HNA planned to float Gategroup in Zurich around March or April in a deal valuing the firm at about 2 billion Swiss francs including debt, sources close to that deal said.
Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) and UBS (UBSG.S) are organizing the Gategroup IPO as global coordinators, with JP Morgan acting as bookrunner. BNP (BNPP.PA), Santander (SAN.MC) and ING (INGA.AS) are also involved in the IPO.
Credit Suisse, UBS and JP Morgan declined to comment, while the other banks could not immediately be reached.
Additional reporting by Kane Wu; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Edmund Blair