HNA Group, one of China's most acquisitive conglomerates, agreed to buy CIT Group Inc.'s aircraft-leasing business for $10 billion, giving billionaire Chairman Chen Feng command over the biggest Chinese-owned fleet for rent.
HNA's Avolon Holdings Ltd. will create a leasing business with a fleet of 910 aircraft valued at more than $43 billion, the Dublin- and Hong Kong-based company said Thursday in a statement. The deal is scheduled to be completed at the end of the first quarter after regulatory and shareholder approval.
The transaction adds to the group's more than $10 billion of acquisitions announced this year and expands its travel and leisure business spanning airports, airlines and hotels. A growing middle class in the Asia-Pacific region — including China, poised to become the biggest aviation market within two decades — is spurring greater air travel and prompting carriers to increase their fleets while competition makes fares affordable to more people.
CIT intends to return $3.3 billion of common equity to shareholders, the New York-based bank said Thursday in a separate statement. The commercial lender is seeking to reduce annual operating expenses by $125 million over the next two years as it targets a return on tangible common equity of 10 percent, the firm said in March. The company has been exploring a sale of its aircraft business, which comprised about 23 percent of assets before the sale, since last year.
CIT rose 4.4 percent to $38 in extended trading at 5:08 p.m. in New York. The stock had dropped 8.3 percent this year through the close of regular trading Thursday.
Airlines in Asia will fly more than 16,000 planes within 20 years, almost tripling the current number, according to estimates by Boeing Co. In the past three decades, the number of aircraft owned by operating lessors jumped 11 percent a year, according to Singapore-based Phillip Capital Pte.
Carriers are finding it can be cheaper to hire jets and avoid the millions of dollars required in initial outlay to buy them. For investors, the plane-leasing business may be more lucrative than running an airline, with contracts typically locked in for several years and ensuring a steady earnings stream.
HNA is among the most active players in what's shaping up to be a record year for overseas acquisitions by Chinese companies.
In August, HNA completed the purchase of a stake in Azul Linhas Aereas Brasileiras SA, Brazil's third-largest airline, after agreeing in May to buy part of Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. The group expects to complete its acquisition of Swiss airline caterer Gategroup Holding AG this year after taking over airport luggage-handler Swissport International Ltd. in February.
HNA has also shopped for non-aviation assets. U.S. computer and software distributor Ingram Micro Inc. agreed to be bought by a unit of HNA for $6 billion in February, and the Chinese group is seeking to buy the owner of the Radisson and Park Inn hotel brands.
HNA posted 2015 revenue of almost 190 billion yuan ($28 billion) and had about 200,000 employees worldwide, according to its website. Aviation is a key business for HNA, whose airlines include Hainan Airlines Co., the fourth biggest in China. The group's airlines flies more than 800 domestic and international routes with a fleet of 1,250 aircraft as of July.
Aercap Holdings NV and GE Capital Aviation Services, known as GECAS, are the plane-leasing market leaders, each with more than 1,000 planes in operation, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Avolon said it had a fleet of 443 planes at the end of the second quarter. BOC Aviation Ltd., the aircraft-leasing unit of Bank of China, has 483 aircraft, according to a company statement.
In January, HNA-controlled Bohai Leasing Co. acquired Avolon in a $7.6 billion deal.