Exclusive: HNA held talks with Ant, others as it weighs options for IT unit Pactera - sources

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China’s HNA Group is exploring an outright sale and other options for its IT outsourcing unit Pactera and has held talks with investors including Ant Financial [ANTFIN.UL], people with knowledge of the situation said.

FILE PHOTO: A HNA Group logo is seen on the building of HNA Plaza in Beijing, China February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The discussions on Pactera, which HNA bought from Blackstone in 2016 for $675 million in cash, come amid a series of sales by the heavily indebted Chinese conglomerate and show the extent of its financial crunch following a $50 billion acquisition spree.

Since January, HNA [HNAIRC.UL] has sold or agreed to sell over $20 billion worth of assets around the world, according to Reuters calculations and media reports.

Beijing-based Pactera, which too has struggled with its finances, caused a stir last year when Goldman Sachs suspended early-stage work on its U.S. initial public offering after the deal did not pass the bank’s internal due diligence standards.

HNA has approached several potential investors about an outright sale of Pactera, two of the people told Reuters. The group is also considering a spin-off of Pactera’s financial services business for a separate listing, said one of them.

Ant Financial, an affiliate of Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba Group BABA.N and operator of China's biggest online payment platform, is among investors weighing a deal with Pactera, two of the people said.

Terms of any deal under discussion between the two were not immediately clear. The identity of other potential investors was not known. It was also not clear how much a sale of Pactera might fetch.

Pactera did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. HNA declined to comment. Ant Financial declined to comment on what it said were market rumors. The sources declined to be named as the information is confidential.

The discussions follow unsuccessful efforts by Pactera to secure financing via convertible bonds. Late last year it tapped CLSA, the Hong Kong brokerage owned by CITIC Securities 600030.SS, to arrange a deal worth up to $200 million with an eye also to a future listing in Hong Kong.

Despite discussions with potential investors it failed to reach an agreement and the deal was called off around late June, sources said. A spokeswoman for CLSA said it does not comment on individual deals.

In an Oct 1 letter to its bondholders, Pactera’s parent, HNA Ecotech Panorama Cayman Co, said it has obtained a $80 million secured term loan facility for general working capital, which two of the people said was an alternative to the failed bond sale.

HNA Ecotech did not mention any sale plans for Pactera in the letter.

Founded in 1995, Pactera offers digital marketing, big data analysis and other services for companies across a wide range of sectors, with offices worldwide, according to its website.

The company works with banks, securities firms and insurance companies. It was also recently ranked by IDC Financial among the world’s top 50 fintech businesses.

In July Pactera was downgraded by ratings agency Moody’s to Caa1 from B3, pushing it deeper into junk-rated territory. Moody’s, which said the company’s weak liquidity position was its main concern, also maintained a negative outlook on the ratings.

Pactera reported revenues of $872 million in 2017. Moody’s also noted the company had provided interest-free loans to HNA Group and its affiliates, resulting in a net cash outflow of $44 million in 2017.

Reporting by Kane Wu and Julie Zhu in HONG KONG; Editing by Jennifer Hughes and Muralikumar Anantharaman