China’s Wanda in Bid Talk for Turkey’s Mars

China’s Wanda Group – widely expected to unveil a major investment in a Parisian property and entertainment complex and believed to be a possible suitor for Paramount – may also be preparing another acquisition.

The company’s name has been linked to a possible purchase of Mars Entertainment, Turkey’s largest cinema chain. So too is South Korea’s CJ-CGV.

“Mars is exploring strategic options through investment banks who are in touch with several international exhibition companies, including Wanda,” a source close to Mars told Variety. “Timing of the deal is this year, but we do not know the price.”

Bloomberg reports that Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were appointed in December by Mars’ owners and that a formal sale process could kick off in March. It also suggested that private equity firms would also be interested.

Adding fuel to the speculation that deals-hungry Wanda could cut short the bidding process and quickly snatch up the Turkish chain, was the suspension of trading on Wednesday in the shares of Wanda Cinema Line.

The company asked for a trading halt “pending an acquisition announcement,” according to a regulatory filing.

Wanda’s Mars move would make sense. In just over a decade Mars Entertainment Group has become the top exhibitor in Turkey which is Europe’s most rapidly growing moviegoing market.

Founded in 2001 by Muzaffer Yildirim, a former exec in the country’s booming tourism industry, Mars has built more than 500 state-of-the-art screens in 24 Turkish cities and plans to have more than 1,000 screens by 2017, all operated under the Cinemaximum brand. They currently account for more than half of Turkey’s total box office.

Wanda Cinema Line now has a market capitalization of $14.4 billion (RMB94 billion). That makes it vastly more valuable than the North American giant AMC that Wanda acquired for $2.3 billion in 2012, or Hoyts, the number two Australian circuit it bought last year. Yet Wanda Cinema Line has still not used its highly valued shares for a major foreign expansion.

CGV, which now has operations in five countries, denied that it was actively pursuing Mars.

“The rumor (that CGV will buy Mars) has been around for a while. Mars is one of those companies on our list and nothing specific is happening between Mars and CGV. Wanda is a big group and they’re aggressively signing MOUs with foreign cinema chains these days, I assume that’s why the rumors say it’s either CGV or Wanda (that is looking to buy a cinema chain) most of the time,” spokesman and CJ-CGV spokesman Cho Sung-jin told Variety.

Neither Wanda or Mars have offered any comment.

Earlier this year, when announcing the $3.5 billion acquisition of Legendary Entertainment, Wanda group chairman Wang Jianlin said that his empire is planning five major acquisitions this year.

Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report.

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