The head of Cofco, the Chinese state-owned grains trader, has laid out
plan… The head of Cofco, the Chinese state-owned grains trader, has
laid out plans to turn the company into a publicly listed global
powerhouse, highlighting Beijing’s decision to relax its policy of food
Ning Gaoning, Cofco chairman, told an FT conference in Lausanne that
China’s agricultural imports would rise from about 120m tonnes to 200m
tonnes in a decade as its people consumed more meat and milk. “This is a
transformation period in China,” he said.
The diets of the country of 1.4bn have changed as China’s living
standards have risen in line with industrialisation. More meat and dairy
on tables has strained arable land and water resources, pushing China
abroad in search of grain to feed livestock.
Cofco’s ambitious plans will put it in competition with foreign
suppliers that dominate global flows of agricultural commodities such as
US-based Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. Mr Ning said: “People ask
me: are you going to be a buyer or a competitor in the future? I think
we will co-operate, but sometimes we will compete. We will compete in a
very, very friendly way.”
David MacLennan, chief executive of Cargill, said he thought Cofco’s
expansion plans were “fantastic”。 “It is transformational but it’s not
surprising,” he said. “It’s a country of a billion three, a billion
four. They need to eat.”
Cofco is a leading state-owned grain buyer but also controls a sprawling
empire of hotels, shopping malls and vineyards. It already has listed
units including soya trader China Agri-Industries Holdings and Mengniu
Last year Cofco spent $3bn for a 51 per cent stake in an agriculture
joint venture with Noble Group of Hong Kong and control of Dutch
agricultural trading house Nidera to extend to regions such as Brazil,
the US, Ukraine and Russia. Mr Ning said he would integrate the
operations into a “global agricultural company”。 He said his company
planned to expand in North America, a big surplus grain producer. “We
need something there to be a so-called global value chain company.”
Yusuf Alireza, Noble chief executive, told the conference they had “a
shared vision in terms of building one of the leading global agri
companies.” Cofco had revenues of Rmb199.1bn and net profit of Rmb2.46bn
in 2014, excluding the Nidera and Noble stakes.
Beijing has begun to loosen its policy of self-sufficiency on grain,
raising hopes among traders that China will one day become as big an
importer of corn as it is of soyabeans. The country currently buys two
out of three internationally traded soyabean cargoes.
Mr Ning said Cofco planned to ship agricultural products to multiple
countries: “It’s not going to be a company that only supplies China,” he
A former artillery officer in the People’s Liberation Army, he said that
the Beijing leadership was comfortable seeing Cofco become a listed
global company. An initial public offering would help it achieve a
“global standard”， he said. Mr Ning noted that Cofco was also the
number-one wine company in China, though he downplayed the quality of
its vintages. “Not very good, but very large,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal
Chinese Conglomerate HNA Gets a Lifeline
Government is helping HNA Group right itself after acquisition spree
loaded it with debt
HNA plans to sell some or all of its shares in a real estate investment
trust that owns Hilton hotels and other properties.
HNA plans to sell some or all of its shares in a real estate investment
trust that owns Hilton hotels and other properties.PHOTO: STEVE
By Anjani Trivedi and Julie Steinberg
Updated March 2, 2018 11:59 p.m. ET
As Beijing takes on its heavily indebted private companies, China’s HNA
Group Co. is quietly getting a helping hand.
Last week, Chinese authorities seized Anbang Insurance Group Co., a
conglomerate that had been buying assets around the world. Yet behind
the scenes the Chinese government has been aiding HNA, a similarly
acquisitive giant with growing financial troubles. Some officials in
Beijing, for instance, have encouraged state-owned banks to keep lending
to HNA, people familiar with the matter say.
The delicate treatment spotlights HNA’s close relationship with the
Chinese government. Some analysts also say the conglomerate, which has a
complex web of lending between subsidiaries, may pose significant risks
to the financial system.
In mid-February, two days before the Chinese New Year, HNA sent a memo
to employees listing its past year’s achievements and voicing its
support for China’s Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, a practice
more common among state-owned Chinese companies.
“HNA Group is an enterprise that belongs to the people,” the memo from
the privately held group said. It noted its assets grew 24% to nearly
1.5 trillion yuan ($237 billion) and revenue nearly doubled to $110
billion, pushing the airlines-to-hotels group up the ranks of the
world’s largest companies.
Since last summer, the conglomerate has found it increasingly difficult
and costly to raise money and meet its financial obligations after
amassing roughly $100 billion in debt during an aggressive overseas
acquisition spree. Some lenders tightened credit to HNA last year after
the Chinese government began scrutinizing the debt levels of the
country’s most acquisitive companies.
More recently, Chinese banks have reopened the spigot. In early
February, a group of government officials met in Beijing with senior HNA
executives to discuss the group’s financial situation, according to a
person who was briefed on the meeting. Also present were representatives
of state-owned banks and the governor of Hainan province, where HNA is
based, the person said.
In the meeting, government officials told banks to keep lending to HNA
and to avoid actions that could cause the company or its units to
default on their debts, according to the person. Several days later, HNA
said it had gotten a new $3.2 billion credit line from state-owned China
Citic Bank Corp. Bank of China Ltd. also stepped in with a new credit
facility, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Government officials also asked HNA to sell assets that fall outside
Beijing’s policy agenda, the person said, including overseas real
Such asset sales by HNA are already under way.
A regulatory filing this past week said HNA is planning to sell some or
all of its shares in Park Hotels & Resorts Inc., a U.S.-listed
real-estate investment trust that owns Hilton hotels and other
commercial properties. HNA’s 25% stake in the company, acquired less
than a year ago, is currently worth about $1.4 billion. The group
recently sold two land plots where Hong Kong’s old airport used to sit
and the Wildenstein mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side after buying
them less than 18 months ago.
In response to questions from The Wall Street Journal, Suren Rana, a
senior HNA executive in New York, said HNA’s investment and asset-sale
decisions are “not based on government directives.” He said regulators
in China have “discouraged all Chinese companies” from overseas
real-estate investments, and HNA is selectively selling properties that
have done well.
Ratings firm Standard & Poor’s in mid-February lowered its assessment of
HNA’s creditworthiness by two notches to ccc+, a highly speculative
grade, noting that the group “faces significant debt maturities amid
deteriorating liquidity.” HNA that day said its finances were “very
healthy” and said some of its top executives had bought its bonds as a
show of support.
Mr. Rana said multiple Chinese and Western banks have extended new
credit to the company in the past couple of months, and said the lending
was not because of government orders. The degree of HNA’s “liquidity
challenges” has been vastly overstated, he added.
Some employees were recently told that HNA intends to cut as much as 10%
of its staff in China, and some layoffs took place shortly before the
New Year holiday commenced on Feb. 16, according to people familiar with
the matter. HNA has over 410,000 employees globally, around a quarter of
whom are in China.
“We buy and sell businesses all the time so the number of our employees
will constantly be going up and down,” Mr. Rana said.
Until about a year ago, HNA was one of China’s most acquisitive
companies, having spent more than $50 billion over two years scooping up
assets around the globe. Some investments it eyed were far afield from
its core aviation and hospitality businesses.
It had, for example, considered buying stakes in retailer Toys ‘R’ Us
Inc. and British grocery-store chain J Sainsbury PLC, according to
people familiar with the matter. Mr. Rana said HNA’s leadership wasn’t
aware of these deliberations.
Now, even some of HNA’s prized assets are being considered for sales or
stake divestments while HNA looks for ways to raise cash to service its
debt and repay over $20 billion in near-term financial obligations,
according to filings and people familiar with the matter.
The group, which last year became the largest shareholder of Deutsche
Bank AG , recently reduced its stake by about a percentage point to 8.8%
after revising a margin loan arrangement for its shares in the bank.
At times there has been little coordination in selling assets, people
familiar with the matter say. Some employees have worked on unloading
assets and then read in the press those assets had been sold without
their knowledge, the people said. Mr. Rana said HNA is “highly
decentralized” and it is possible certain information wasn’t shared
Outwardly, HNA’s executives have sought to portray calm. In late
December, as HNA planned asset sales and increased leverage through some
of its most liquid stakes, Chairman Wang Jian took the company’s private
jet to the South Pole, placing an intricate gold statue of Buddha on the
South Pole for his birthday, according to a person familiar with his
travels. Chinese media hailed the trip as the first commercial flight to
Mr. Rana said HNA still aims to become one of the world’s 10 largest
companies by revenue. He said HNA is selectively selling assets with an
eye to making a profit, adding the group “is always looking at deploying
our capital into the most attractive opportunities.”