After struggling to obtain regulatory approval for a substantial cash infusion, Hanmi Financial Corp. is looking elsewhere to continue raising its capital levels.

The Koreatown institution, the holding company for Hanmi Bank, announced last week that it has amended its exclusivity agreement with South Korean financial conglomerate Woori Finance Holdings Co. to allow Hanmi to negotiate with other investors.

In May, the institutions announced that Woori would take an ownership stake in Hanmi by investing as much as $240 million in the bank, which had been struggling with heavy loan losses and had been ordered by regulators to raise capital. Hanmi already raised $120 million from Woori in July through a stock offering. The remaining capital, however, requires regulatory approval because it would give Woori a majority stake.

The deal, however, has yet to receive approval from banking regulators. And analysts are skeptical it will ever be approved because Woori is partly owned by the South Korean government.

The July infusion brought the bank back into well-capitalized status under regulatory guidelines. However, the bank would like to raise the rest of the money.

Brian Cho, Hanmi’s chief financial officer, said his bank has been approached by multiple potential investors since the exclusivity clause has been lifted. Though management still hopes to complete the Woori deal, Cho said this amendment allows Hanmi to keep its options open.

“We cannot wait for Woori approval forever,” he said. “We have time, but we have to consider every possibility. The more capital the better at this moment in the uncertain economy.”

Alex Cappello, who helped arrange the Woori deal, said the capital markets have loosened for banks, leaving Hanmi in decent shape even if the Woori deal is not approved.

“If they want more capital they should have no problem getting it,” said Cappello, managing director of Santa Monica investment bank Cappello Capital Corp.

Busy Buyer

November was a busy month for Levine Leichtman Capital Partners.

With the local mergers and acquisitions market picking up, the Beverly Hills private equity firm announced two acquisitions over the past month, including the $91.5 million purchase of Santa Cruz Nutritionals, a maker of gummy-based nutritional products. The firm financed the acquisition out of its $1.1 billion fourth fund.

Levine Leichtman followed up its Santa Cruz purchase with the $50 million acquisition of Revenew International LLC, a Houston-based company offering auditing services.

Founded in 1984, Levine Leichtman, which manages $5 billion of institutional capital, targets companies with growth potential and strong management in a variety of industries.

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