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Rumors of foreign buyout send Hanmi shares higher

Shares of Hanmi Financial Corp. have doubled in recent weeks on rumors that the Los Angeles bank, hammered by losses on commercial real estate, would be purchased by a South Korean banking firm.

The company is the parent of Koreatown's Hanmi Bank, which with $3.4 billion in assets is the largest bank focused on the Korean American market. It disclosed in November that regulators had ordered it to raise $100 million in fresh capital by July or face seizure by the government.

On Friday, Hanmi issued a statement saying its chairman, Joseph K. Rho, had traveled to South Korea to speak with potential investors including Woori Finance Holdings, a large Seoul-based financial services company that is mostly owned by the government there. The statement provided few details.

Hanmilogo Hanmi shares were down 7 cents at $2.11 in afternoon trading today. They closed at $1.02 on Jan. 12.

Analyst Chris Stulpin at D.A. Davidson & Co. said Woori Finance has $237 billion in assets and is the parent of New York-based Woori America Bank, a community bank with $1 billion in assets of its own.

"So there is plenty of money backing Woori America," Stulpin said in an e-mail. But would the U.S. government bless the deal? "I still believe it would be very difficult for regulators to accept a bank owned by a large South Korea company (that is 73% held by the state)."

But there's recent precedent for a foreign bank buying a troubled U.S. bank. Back in August, regulators shut down Guaranty Bank of Austin, Texas, which had 59 branches in California. It was immediately taken over by BBVA Compass, a Birmingham, Ala., bank that is owned by the parent company of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria of Spain.

-- E. Scott Reckard

 
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