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S. Korean bank to buy majority stake in troubled Hanmi Financial

May 25, 2010 |  9:12 pm

South Korean financial giant Woori Finance Holdings agreed Tuesday to invest at least $210 million in Hanmi Financial Corp. of Los Angeles, a deal that in effect would mean a takeover of Hanmi by the foreign bank instead of by U.S. bank regulators.

Hanmi Financial, parent of Hanmi Bank, has been searching for new capital since last year. It said Woori would purchase a minimum of $210 million in shares at $1.20 a share, with an option to purchase an additional $30 million in Hanmi shares. The deal would give Woori a majority stake in Hanmi.

Hanmi said it also intended to offer its existing shareholders a chance to buy an additional $60 million in stock, and would offer yet another $60 million to the public. The transactions are subject to approval by U.S. and South Korean bank regulators.

Hanmi, based in Koreatown, ran into trouble last year when some of its construction and business loans went sour. It disclosed in November that regulators had ordered it to raise $100 million by July or face seizure. It lost $122 million last year and has lost $282 million over last three years. Once the nation's largest Korean American bank by assets, Hanmi had fallen behind local competitors Wilshire State Bank and Nara Bancorp in that category as of March  31.

The company's stock had whipsawed in recent months on fears of failure and rumors of a takover, trading at $1.15 a share in early January and climbing to $3.93 on April 23. It closed up 3 cents Tuesday at $2.03 before the announcement.

-- E. Scott Reckard