HONG KONG (Reuters) - China has asked Anbang Insurance Group, whose chairman was detained last month, to sell its assets outside the country, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing unnamed sources.
The government has also asked Anbang - best-known overseas for the record-breaking purchase of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York - to repatriate the proceeds of those sales, Bloomberg said. It did not provide more detail.
Anbang brushed off the report. It said in a statement that it had “no plans to sell its overseas assets at the moment”, adding its businesses and operations were all normal.
The company said it had “ample cash and abundant ability to pay back (debt)”.
China’s insurance regulator did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Beijing-based Anbang has been one of China’s most aggressive dealmakers in recent years.
After a spate of successful deals worth over $30 billion, however, Anbang had begun to run into roadblocks even before the June detention of Chairman Wu Xiaohui, failing to close on a handful of investments and facing criticism over its opaque shareholding structure.
One source familiar with the matter told Reuters all of Anbang’s overseas dealings - ongoing purchases and refinancing work on existing assets - had already been halted since Wu’s detention for investigation, adding all daily operations were now reported to the insurance regulator.
The hefty prices paid by Anbang for trophy assets like the Waldorf will likely make it difficult for the group to secure a quick sale without deep discounts, financial sources told Reuters on Monday.
And even at keen prices, political uncertainties could discourage buyers, the sources said - a headache for Anbang’s lenders, some of China’s largest state-owned banks.
Anbang said in June that its chairman was temporarily unable to fulfil his duties, hours after Chinese magazine Caijing reported the chairman had been taken away for investigation.
People familiar with the matter later confirmed he had been detained.
Reporting by Julie Zhu and Kane Wu in HONG KONG and Shu Zhang in BEIJING; Writing by Clara Ferreira-Marques; Editing by Neil Fullick and Himani sarkar