1-3-18 6:22 AM EST | Email Article

HNA Group Co. has fallen behind in repaying loans it obtained from employees and individual investors on an Internet-lending platform, another sign that the Chinese conglomerate is having difficulty meeting some of its debt obligations.

A unit of HNA told employees in an email Tuesday that payments on investment products they previously purchased would be delayed, according to a person familiar with the matter.

HNA employees as well as outside investors are among the customers of JBH.com, an Internet-based investment and financing platform owned by HNA that makes loans and sells high-yielding investment products that mostly mature in under a year.

It was the second such notification that employees of the sprawling airlines-to-hotels conglomerate had received in about a month, according to a person familiar with the matter. In an email in early December, the same unit acknowledged the company was late in repaying investors who had bought short-term investment products that were originally due on Nov. 28.

At the time, it asked for their patience and support and pledged to repay them by Jan. 2 along with additional interest, according to a copy of the email reviewed by the Journal.

The email this week said the HNA unit now expects to repay the money by Jan. 30, the person said.

It isn't known how much HNA owes employees and other individuals who bought the investment products, which in some cases had investment minimums of 50,000 yuan ($7,692) or 100,000 yuan and offered annualized yields of around 7% for 90-day investment periods.

Spokespeople for HNA had no immediate comment.

The delays are the latest hiccup in HNA Group's efforts to raise capital and manage billions of dollars in near-term debt obligations. The company has since 2015 undertaken an aggressive global acquisition spree that was largely financed with debt, scooping up stakes in Deutsche Bank AG, the Hilton hotel chain, asset management firms, airport assets and real estate outside of China.

The group has estimated it has around $100 billion in outstanding debt and has said about a quarter of it is coming due within a year.

In recent months, some banks have been hesitant to work with HNA after Chinese regulators began scrutinizing the company's acquisitions and its use of leverage. Some HNA subsidiaries have had to pay higher interest rates to borrow in the bond market while others have canceled their bond offerings, indicating nervousness among debt investors.

HNA has tried to reassure investors by declaring it has financial support from large Chinese banks. In recent weeks, it has also turned to some of its most valuable assets--including its ownership stakes in Deutsche Bank, Hilton Worldwide Holdings Ltd. and Postal Savings Bank of China--to raise additional cash by increasing the size of margin loans backed by its shares in those companies.

The group is also looking to sell some overseas assets, including commercial buildings in the U.S. and other countries.

HNA has tapped a range of funding sources in recent years. Much of the funds raised on JBH.com likely flowed to HNA, according to Orient Capital Research, an independent firm that researches China's shadow banking industry.

JBH.com was founded in 2014. Its name is Ju Bao Hui in Mandarin, with part of it meaning "gathering treasure." The platform sells a variety of investment products with estimated annualized yields of up to 10% that mature between one and 18 months, according to its website. It also makes loans to individuals and sell insurance policies, including one offered by HNA's life-insurance unit.

At the end of June 2017, the platform had about 16 million users and turnover of 71.1 billion yuan ($10.7 billion), a sum that represents the total value of transactions done on its platform, according to JBH's 2017 first-half report.

Around a fifth of its investment products were due in less than three months, while 40% were to mature in nine months to a year, the report said. Nearly half of the products carried an annualized yield higher than 9%.

--Yifan Xie and Anjani Trivedi contributed to this article.

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 03, 2018 06:22 ET (11:22 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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