Hanmi Financial Corp. (HAFC), the second-largest U.S. bank catering to Korean-Americans, is looking for a buyer and hired DelMorgan & Co. to advise on a sale, said three people with knowledge of the matter.
The lender may attract interest from BBCN Bancorp Inc. (BBCN) and Wilshire Bancorp Inc. (WIBC), which like Hanmi are based in Los Angeles and target Korean-Americans, said two of the people, who asked not to be named because the process is private. Hanmi rose more than 8% on Wednesday, giving the firm a market value of about $481 million. It has assets of about $2.8 billion.
Hanmi, led by Chief Executive Officer Jay Yoo, is pursuing a sale less than two years after its takeover by South Korean lender Woori Finance Holdings Co. collapsed. Hanmi may draw interest again from Woori, as well as South Korea's Hana Bank, both seeking expansion in the U.S., the people said. The lender was founded more than 30 years ago and operates in areas such as San Diego, San Francisco and Orange County.
Hanmi shares rose 8.1 percent to $15.26 as of 4 p.m. in New York.
Woori Finance agreed in May 2010 to buy Hanmi for as much as $240 million. That deal was terminated in June 2011, when the firms agreed to a business alliance instead. Officials at Woori and Hana declined to comment, while representatives at Wilshire and BBCN didn't return calls seeking comment.
David Yang, Hanmi's corporate strategy officer, didn't return a call seeking comment. Rob Delgado, co-founder of DelMorgan, declined to comment. Delgado helped found the Santa Monica, California-based investment-banking boutique in 2011.
Hanmi has 27 branches in California. Its shares had gained 76% in the year through Tuesday as the company recovered from steep commercial loan losses in 2009 and 2010.
BBCN is the largest Korean-American-focused bank, with $5.3 billion in assets as of Sept. 30, according to SNL Financial, a bank-research firm in Charlottesville, Va. Wilshire is the third-largest with $2.6 billion in assets.
The California Department of Financial Institutions and Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco lifted late in 2012 two enforcement actions placed on Hanmi in 2009. The actions had required Hanmi to maintain certain capital levels and restricted the bank from paying dividends, increasing debt and changing its businesses plan without regulatory permission.
Hanmi also last year began to draw down a nearly $80 million deferred tax allowance, or pool of money that represents a tax benefit a company can't recognize unless it is healthy.
The drawdown sharply enhanced the company's book value, which was $364 million as of Sept. 30, up almost 80% from a year earlier, according to the company's third-quarter earnings report.