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Asia banking: HNA turns M&A norms around again

Everyone used to want to be on the sell side; now they want to be on the buy side.


In recent months, there has been a new game in Hong Kong investment banking called ‘Distance yourself from HNA’.

It is easy to play. On the way up, everyone wanted to advise HNA, the acquisitive-though-opaque Chinese conglomerate whose big holdings include stakes in everything from Deutsche Bank to Hainan Airlines and Hilton Worldwide. 

It was among the world’s most active investment companies from 2015 to early 2017 and therefore very much courted by western investment bankers.

Things started to change last year as concerns grew about debt levels and who actually owned the company. In July, Bank of America Merrill Lynch told its bankers to stop working on transactions with HNA Group (prompting the industry-wide retort that they probably weren’t in the running for any in the first place).

Whether publicly or privately, others distancing themselves from HNA deals around this time included Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley. 

The game then took an unexpected twist when HNA told Reuters it had passed the compliance checks of several global banks, specifically naming JPMorgan, UBS, Credit Suisse and Nomura (but not, noticeably, Deutsche, despite HNA owning almost 10% of the bank’s stock at the time). 

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