Hanmi Financial Corp. is free to pursue other deals after amending an oft-delayed agreement with a patient investor.
Woori Financial Holdings Co. Ltd., which is largely owned by the South Korean government, on Monday permitted Hanmi to explore other capital options. The companies have been unable to get regulatory approval for a capital infusion announced in May.
Since Woori disclosed plans to invest up to $240 million in the Los Angeles company, analysts expressed concerns the deal could hit snags with foreign and U.S. regulators alike. The deal, which would give Woori majority ownership in Hanmi, had become a double-edged sword. U.S. regulators ordered the $3 billion-asset Hanmi to raise capital but were not keen on the funds coming from another country.
U.S. regulators see this as having "a foreign, government-owned bank with a large position" in a U.S. bank, said Brett Rabatin, an analyst at Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc. "That has not been done before," Rabatin added. "It may still get approved, but I was not surprised" by the delay.
Other Korean-American banks posted tough third-quarter results, which may have contributed to regulatory concerns.
"I don't think the financials help … but the key is, it's more politically driven," Rabatin said.
Rabatin pointed to Commonwealth Business Bank, a Korean-American bank in Los Angeles that faced regulatory delays with funding from South Korea's Hana Financial Inc. The deal, which would have given Hana a 37.5% stake in the bank, was terminated in November 2008.
In a Tuesday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Hanmi said it had received a waiver from Woori, allowing it to pursue other capital raises or sell itself.
The filing also said that "no assurances can be given" that regulators would approve the Woori investment.
"The regulatory approval is being delayed and we may or may not need additional capital right away," Brian Cho, Hanmi's chief financial officer, said in an interview Thursday. "We may have to open the back door just in case."
Hanmi is not in as dire need of capital as it was in May. It raised $120 million through a rights and public offering in July tied to the Woori agreement.
That offering helped Hanmi Bank exceed a regulatory order requiring it to raise $100 million to become well capitalized. On Oct. 28, Hanmi Financial said its bank's total risk-based capital ratio jumped to 11.61%, from 7.35% in the previous quarter.
The Woori investment would boost total common equity and let Hanmi refocus on growth. Woori agreed to invest at least $210 million into Hanmi with the option to purchase another $30 million of its common stock.
The proposed deal has several hurdles, including approval from the Federal Reserve Board, the California Department of Financial Institutions and the Korean Financial Services Commission.
Cho said the Woori deal is not off the table. He would not say whether Hanmi was considering other offers.