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Rumors of foreign buyout send Hanmi shares higher

January 25, 2010 |  1:11 pm

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