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Wanda Boss Clarifies Debt Position as Criticism of Deal-Making Grows in China

Dalian Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin moved Thursday to reassure markets of his mammoth company’s solvency amid a growing wave of discontent in China with financial excess and heightened scrutiny of Wanda’s dealings.

“Once the transaction with Sunac and R&F Properties is completed, Wanda Commercial will have nearly RMB 200 billion [$29 billion] in loans plus bonds,” Wang said, referring to Wanda’s surprise agreement to sell off its theme parks and dozens of its hotels. “We have decided to pay off most of our bank loans.

“With cash of RMB 100 billion on the books and RMB 68 billion to be received from this transaction, Wanda Commercial has approximately RMB 170 billion [$24.6 billion] in cash,” Wang said in a statement. “Wanda also has RMB 130 billion [$18.8 billion] of for-sale property inventory. By selling all of them, Wanda Commercial can recover tens of billions.”

Wang said that the deal with developers Sunac China and R&F Properties would result in “a significant reduction in our liabilities and extensive recovery of cash.” He said the sale showed that Wanda’s commercial and cultural tourism operations had moved into a new era of “asset-light” brand management – a change in company strategy Wanda announced two years ago.

“In today’s China, perhaps Wanda is the only enterprise that can achieve economies of scale and make a profit through managing commercial centers and cultural tourism brands,” Wang said.

Wang’s statement came amid a turbulent week for his company, following announcement of the theme-parks-and-hotels sale and reports that Chinese authorities have ordered banks to stop lending money to Wanda to finance several of its high-profile overseas acquisitions, including last year’s $3.5-billion purchase of Legendary Entertainment.

While Wang’s financial clarifications might help reassure investors in Wanda’s listed properties subsidiary, many questions hang over the real-estate-to-entertainment conglomerate. These include the sudden introduction Wednesday of Guangzhou-based R&F Properties as a party to the parks and hotels deal, and an abrupt change in price of the assets being sold. More fundamentally, there remain questions about Wanda’s previously excellent relations with the Chinese government.

From being a company seen to be doing Beijing’s bidding, such as bringing world soccer to China, Wanda now looks to be on shaky ground with authorities intent on punishing and shaming Wanda for its aggressive overseas deals, which appear to have breached the government’s recent capital controls.

Chinese media are now highlighting a recently broadcast China Central Television show in which a commentator said that some Chinese acquisitions of European soccer teams were akin to money laundering.

“They were not meant to invest money for profit but to move money abroad,” Yin Zhongli, a prominent researcher, said on CCTV on Tuesday.

Wanda owns 20% of Spain’s Atletico Madrid and last year became a leading sponsor of FIFA, the organization that runs world soccer. Another Chinese company, Rossoneri, which bought control of AC Milan from Silvio Berlusconi, is one of five companies, along with Wanda, that appear to have become a no-go for the Chinese banking sector.

Criticism of financial wheeler-dealing also grew over the weekend when Tencent co-founder Zeng Liqing described tech and entertainment conglomerate LeShi as a “Ponzi scheme.” LeShi is part of LeEco, which has also grown through aggressive deal-making and is currently wrestling with huge debts brought on by over-rapid expansion.

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