CIT to Sell Aircraft Leasing Unit for $10 Billion

The sale to Chinese aviation conglomerate HNA comes amid pressure on CIT from activist investors to dispose of noncore assets.
Matthew HellerOctober 7, 2016
CIT to Sell Aircraft Leasing Unit for $10 Billion

Under pressure from activist investors, commercial lender CIT Group is disposing of a noncore asset, agreeing to sell its aircraft leasing business to a Chinese-owned competitor for about $10 billion.

CIT Commercial Air owns, finances and manages a fleet of more than 350 commercial aircraft. It is being sold to the Avolon Holdings unit of China’s HNA Group, creating the world’s third-largest aircraft leasing company.

Avolon will pay $10 billion for the $9.4 billion net asset value of CIT Aerospace, representing a premium of 6.7%.

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“The sale of CIT Commercial Air represents an important milestone for CIT and follows an extensive dual-track process that was designed to maximize shareholder value,” CIT Group CEO Ellen R. Alemany said in a news release. “This transaction will strengthen our balance sheet, simplify our business and enable us to return significant capital to our shareholders.”

CIT said it will use the proceeds from the sale to pay out more than $3 billion to its shareholders. As The New York Times reports, the lender has been under pressure from activist hedge fund Hudson Executive Capital and other investors to break itself up to boost its stock price.

Former CEO John Thain had pursued a strategy of growing CIT into a sizable bank through acquisitions.

With the addition of CIT’s planes, Avolon’s fleet will double in size to 910 aircraft valued at over $43 billion, behind only the fleets of AerCap Holdings and GE Capital Aviation Services. Aviation and shipping conglomerate HNA is one of several Chinese firms pushing into aircraft leasing.

“Cheap capital and generous accounting policies can sometimes offer aircraft investors double-digit yields, and deals are being pursued by more Chinese companies that often have a funding advantage over Western counterparts,” The Wall Street Journal recently reported.

Fueled by cheap debt, HNA has made about $32 billion in purchases since last July, according to the American Journal of Transportation. Other bidders for CIT Commercial Air reportedly included China’s Ping An Insurance Group and Century Tokyo Leasing.