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  October 13th, 2016 | Written by

Could Hanjin Bankruptcy Have Been Avoided?

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  • Hanjin CEO: Troubles could have been avoided if creditors had provided support.
  • Hanjin Chairman Cho Yang-Ho had planned to give $90 million of his own wealth to prop up the company.
  • Hanjin is required to submit a proposal for revival to South Korean court by December 23.

As South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping Co. continues its struggle for survival, the company’s chairman and CEO claims bankruptcy protection might not have been necessary, if creditors had been more accommodating.

“We believe Hanjin Shipping’s troubles could have been avoided if creditors had provided support,” said Chairman Cho Yang-Ho, amidst apologies for supply-chain disruptions. “We had submitted to creditors a plan to inject 500 billion won ($451 million) into Hanjin Shipping over a two-year period.”

Before creditors halted support, Cho had planned to give 100 billion won of his personal wealth to help prop up the company, the executive said. Korean Air, also part of Hanjin Group, had been ready to provide 400 billion won.

Hanjin’s fate will now be decided in court. The company is required to submit a proposal for revival by December 23. Cho remained confident that the company can – and should – be salvaged.

Hanjin was once the world’s seventh-largest container line, but now ranks 10th with a market share that has fallen to 2.6 percent. Bankruptcy protection was sought after creditors rejected the company’s plan to deal with a $5.37 billion debt. If it goes under, it will be the largest such loss in the history of container shipping.

How Did This Happen?

A severe slump in global trade has made times tough for all carrier shipping firms, especially those doing business with China. But where other struggling shippers received government support, Hanjin did not. “We hit a wall as a private company competing against foreign shippers that receive billions of dollars from their governments,” Cho said.

Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. (HMM) another South Korean shipper, survived its own financial crisis with help from the state-run Korean Development Bank. In this case, creditors were more cooperative because HMM was not as behind on hire payments to ship owners.

Another factor was likely the realization that this isn’t the first time Hanjin has received substantial funding. Hanjin Group had injected around two trillion won ($1.8 billion) into the shipping firm since its acquisition in 2014, but just two years later the company has posted a net loss of more than 473 billion won in the first half of this year alone, after racking up total net losses of about 1.2 trillion won over the past three years.

Despite the emergency funds from Cho and the Hanjin Group, Hanjin ships have been stranded at sea.

Alliance Impact

The court overseeing the Hanjin receivership is open to offers. The only contender with enough financial clout is A.P. Moeller-Maersk’s container line, which may acquire both Hanjin and Hyundai Merchant Marine Co.

Still undetermined is how Hanjin’s financial misfortunes will impact its proposed entry into THE Alliance in April of 2017. Resolving its debt issues will likely be a prerequisite for the company’s participation, and that may only happen through acquisition by another firm, or closer ties with HMM. One unnamed source in the South Korean government has already stated that there is only room for one Korean line in the alliance.