Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.'s CEO said he believes Anbang Insurance Group Co. Ltd. is not trying to sell the Waldorf Astoria New York, where Hilton is in the early years of a 100-year lease.
Company executives also declined to comment on reports that HNA Group Co. Ltd., another large Chinese investor and the parent company of Hilton's largest shareholder, could sell assets to reduce its debt.
Bloomberg reported Feb. 12 that Anbang, under pressure from the Chinese government to reduce its overseas holdings, was in early talks to sell the iconic Waldorf property to Blackstone Group LP.
"It is rumored out there that they are going to sell a bunch of stuff, and my understanding is that is accurate," Hilton President and CEO Christopher Nassetta said on an earnings conference call, in response to an analyst's question. "I do not, at least at this moment — and things can change — believe that that does include the Waldorf Astoria, at least as they've said it to us."
Nassetta said Anbang is moving forward with renovation work on the hotel, which has been closed for business since early 2017, and said the work is "generally" on schedule. Hilton is "very well protected" in its lease agreement, regardless of who owns the property, he added.
Nassetta said he could not comment on Blackstone's strategy, noting that the private equity giant is not affiliated with Hilton. Blackstone is Hilton's third-largest shareholder, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data, with control of just over 5% of Hilton's outstanding shares. Blackstone's incoming president and COO, Jonathan Gray, is chairman of Hilton's board.
Responding to a different analyst, CFO Kevin Jacobs said Hilton is "not going to comment on what HNA might or might not do with their shares, or what might or might not be going on at their company." He said the two parties have a shareholder agreement restricting HNA's ability to sell Hilton shares in the short term.
As of Dec. 27, 2017, an HNA affiliate owned 82.5 million shares of Hilton common stock, or 25.79% of the hotelier's outstanding common shares, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.