Hanmi Financial Corp. of Los Angeles has finally found the capital it needs, but its source — an entity largely owned by the South Korean government — may give regulators pause.
The $3 billion-asset Korean-American bank company announced late Tuesday that it had entered into an agreement with Woori Finance Holdings Co. Ltd. under which Woori would invest at least $210 million — ending months of speculation that the two entities were in negotiations.
Also, Hanmi Financial said it is preparing to kick off a $120 million capital-raising effort targeted at shareholders and the open market.
The combined $330 million in common equity would far exceed the $100 million that regulators ordered Hanmi's undercapitalized bank to raise by the end of July. Also, the infusion could potentially position the company for growth, though experts said Hanmi's foreign control raises questions about its future.
"This deal has been anticipated, but the question now becomes: Will the regulators allow it to transpire?" said Brett Rabatin, an analyst with Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc., in an interview. "There are still a number of ways that this could turn out. It is good news that they struck a deal, but this is far from certain."
Regulators must approve Woori's investment — which sources said could prove to be a battle. "Historically, there have been regulatory issues relating to foreign governments' ownership of banks in the U.S.," said Walter J. Mix 3rd, a managing director at LECG Global Financial Services and a former commissioner of the California Department of Financial Institutions. "The Fed will want to ensure that loans are made with safety and soundness in mind, rather than any kind of government direction."
Mix pointed to a years-long process that banks owned by the Taiwan government endured in the 1990s as they sought to enter the United States as an example of what Hanmi might face. Yet he said regulators likely will consider the urgency of Hanmi's situation — its bank was undercapitalized as of March 31 and has been ordered to sharply boost its tangible equity ratio by July 31.
"The regulators will have to reconcile this bank's immediate need for capital with the regulatory requirements of allowing a group controlled by a foreign government to make the investment," Mix said.
Hanmi would not comment and attempts to reach Woori were unsuccessful.
In Woori's favor, it already has a U.S. banking presence, Julianna Balicka, an analyst with KBW Inc.'s Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., said in a research note Wednesday. Woori owns the $1.1 billion-asset Woori America Bank in New York.
Hanmi has been besieged by credit quality issues, primarily related to commercial real estate. On March 31 its nonperforming assets totaled $262.2 million, or 9.77% of total loans, up 20% from yearend though it charged off $26 million in loans.
Since the first quarter of 2008, the company has set aside $329 million in provisions for loan losses, which eroded its tangible common equity ratio to 3.25% as of March 31, according to Balicka's research note.
Balicka said the $330 million investment would raise the ratio to 13.6%. That would be more than enough to satisfy regulatory requirements placed on Hanmi's bank unit.
Mix said that in addition to the regulatory hurdles the investment faces, he wonders if it ultimately will be enough to plug Hanmi's capital hole as the company works through problem credits.
"This is a bank with a large commercial real estate concentration," Mix said. "And with unemployment rates, that is a segment that is causing great concern."