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Wanda, headed by tycoon Wang Jianlin, has spent billions on a range of US entertainment properties but is being probed by Chinese authorities over potentially risky loans/AFP

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China’s Wanda agrees to mammoth asset sale to slash debt

Wanda, headed by tycoon Wang Jianlin, has spent billions on a range of US entertainment properties but is being probed by Chinese authorities over potentially risky loans/AFP

SHANGHAI, China, Jul 10 – Chinese conglomerate Wanda said Monday it will sell dozens of hotels and other projects to developer Sunac China Holdings for $9.3 billion to slash debt, two weeks after acknowledging it was being probed following heavy overseas investments.

It is China’s largest-ever property deal, according to Bloomberg News, and will see Sunac buy 76 hotels outright and take a 91 percent stake in 13 other “cultural and tourism projects” within China, the companies said.

Wanda, headed by one of China’s richest men, Wang Jianlin, was among the more acquisitive players in a flood of Chinese money overseas that raised concerns in Beijing over “irrational” investments.

Wang told financial magazine Caixin the deal would cause debt at Wanda’s commercial property arm to “drop greatly”, without giving specifics.

“The funds returned from this will all be used to pay back loans. Wanda Commercial plans to pay back the majority of bank loans within this year,” he was quoted saying.

The deal highlights a quandary faced by Chinese corporations that bet big on overseas acquisitions but now face difficulty paying off debts.

Beijing began last year to roll out restrictions to curb overseas capital flight, which analysts said raises funding costs for companies like Wanda because lending to them is now viewed as more risky.

Wanda admitted last month that China’s banking regulator was looking into potentially risky loans it held.

Wanda said other domestic companies that invested aggressively overseas also were being scrutinised, including Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux, a consortium that recently purchased Italian football club AC Milan, Club Med’s owner Fosun Group, and HNA Group.

Running out of options

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The deal indicates that “Wanda is running out of options to raise funds through normal financing channels,” said Ivan Han, Shanghai-based analyst with financial information provider Morning Whistle.

“Financial institutions don’t really want to keep lending money to firms that are targeted by regulatory scrutiny.”

“It doesn’t mean their businesses are in trouble. They are just adjusting their financing chains.”

But China is likely to see more such deals as companies are forced to pay the piper for rapid expansion, said Michael Every, senior Asia-Pacific strategist for Rabobank.

“That is for sure. Remember Japan in the 1980s? Expect worse for China,” he said, referring to Japan’s asset bubble.

In recent years, Beijing encouraged companies to invest overseas to find new markets, access technology and increase China Inc’s influence.

But they have reversed course as concerns grow over capital flight, a weakened Chinese currency, and potentially unsound acquisitions.

Authorities also are moving aggressively to corral alarming levels of debt and risky lending amid warnings of a potential financial contagion in the world’s second-largest economy.

Wanda, which diversified from commercial property into entertainment, theme parks and sports, was at the forefront of the overseas push, spending billions to acquire companies like US-based cinema chain AMC Theatres and Hollywood studio Legendary Entertainment.

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Wang told Caixin that Wanda would accelerate a push to increase its focus on film, sports, tourism, internet, finance and other business, at the expense of property development.

Monday’s announcement marks the latest aggressive move by fast-growing Sunac, which is run by billionaire Sun Hongbin and since last year has purchased dozens of property projects across China.

In January it came to the rescue of cash-strapped Chinese tech firm LeEco, which has admitted expanding too rapidly, with a $2.2 billion investment lifeline.

Hong Kong-listed Sunac suspended its shares ahead of Monday’s announcement, but Wanda Hotel Development closed nearly 47 percent higher at HK$0.85, having skyrocketed to as high as HK$1.48 earlier in the day.

 

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