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UPDATE 1-Hainan Airlines seen attractive to new investors despite HNA Group crisis

* Creditors applied to Chinese court for bankruptcy on Friday

* Shares fell 9.8% on Monday

* Airline estimates 2020 net loss of at least $9 bln (Adds Hainan Airlines’ message to passengers)

Feb 1 (Reuters) - Hainan Airlines Holding Co Ltd , HNA Group’s flagship firm, is operating normally and could draw in new investors despite a bankruptcy filing, embezzlement charges and large asset impairments for the carrier last week, some analysts said.

A strong route network, high brand value and an experienced management team as well as restructuring efforts by China’s No. 4 carrier, were among the reasons cited.

HNA units, including the airline, will spend this year negotiating to bring in strategic investors, an HNA Group executive told Reuters. The executive was not authorised to speak publicly on the matter and declined to be identified.

Chinese financial publication Caixin has also reported strong interest from potential suitors in the airline, although it did not name them. It said Hainan Airlines, the country’s biggest non state-owned carrier, aimed to remain independent.

Hainan Airlines declined to comment on potential investment.

“Hainan Airlines itself should be fine,” said Chinese aviation expert Li Xiaojin. “It is most likely Hainan Airlines will continue to operate, but there might be a change in ownership.”

Hainan said in a message sent to customers in its loyalty programme that the reorganisation would not have any significant impact on its daily operations, as it is aimed “to resolve financial and debt issues in accordance with the law.”

HNA Group creditors applied to a Chinese court on Friday, asking that the company be placed in bankruptcy and restructured. The airline, which has warned it could be delisted if declared bankrupt, saw its shares plunge 9.8% on Monday, valuing it at around $3.6 billion.

Like much of the global airline industry, Hainan Airlines has been reeling amid the coronavirus pandemic but financial woes have compounded its problems.

Its domestic traffic halved last year, steeper than declines of 19.2% to 32.7% for its state-owned rivals.

It also expects to slide deep into the red, estimating a net loss of 58 billion yuan to 65 billion yuan ($9 billion-$10 billion) for 2020. That includes 46 billion yuan in impairments.

By comparison, China Southern Airlines Co Ltd, China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd and Air China Ltd have predicted losses of 7.9 billion yuan to 15.5 billion.

Others were somewhat more cautious about Hainan Airlines’ ability to woo investors amid the pandemic.

“In any stronger market landscape, we can say Hainan might be quite attractive given its network and general demand, but the pandemic has obviously flipped the script entirely,” said Luya You, transportation analyst at BOCOM.

Hainan Airline has a fleet of 220 planes.

$1 = 6.4600 Chinese yuan Reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing, Jamie Freed in Sydney and Brenda Goh in Shanghai. Additional reporting by Zoey Zhang in Beijing and Kane Wu in Hong Kong. Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Mark Potter

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