China's HNA pushes back against liquidity concerns, wont sell assets "blindly"

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By Matthew Miller and Julie Zhu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's HNA Group sought to allay growing concerns that the massive conglomerate is facing a liquidity crunch and may need to dispose some recent acquisitions, including stakes in Deutsche Bank and Hilton.

Zhao Quan, head of HNA's tourism division and the group's newest board member, told Reuters on Friday in a telephone interview from Haikou city in southern China that adjustments in the group's portfolio had started earlier, and the company was not selling its holdings "blindly".

HNA has not "suddenly started to liquidate assets", said Zhao, who added the company has been disposing of non-core businesses in line with group strategy. Zhao dismissed "outside speculation" that the group is facing a "liquidity crisis".

Zhao's comments come against a backdrop of a slew of repayment obligations and concerns about rising financing costs at the indebted airline-to-property conglomerate. HNA's $50 billion (37.1 billion pounds) worth of deal-making over the past two years has sparked intense scrutiny of its opaque ownership and use of leverage.

Among its most high-profile purchases has been a 25 percent stake in Hilton for $6.5 billion and a 9.9 percent stake in Deutsche Bank.

Zhao characterized both share purchases as "successful" financial investments, as well as "profitable". "We hope to have more cooperation with both companies," he said.

HNA has "significant" debt maturities over the next several years and its funding costs are "meaningfully higher" than from a year ago, ratings agency S&P Global Ratings said last month.

Pressure on HNA's finances has risen after the Chinese government told major banks in June to review their credit exposure to HNA and a handful of other companies.

(Reporting By Matthew Miller and Julie Zhu; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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