Chinese Internet giant Tencent is leading a group of investors who are paying $5.3 billion (RMB34 billion) to buy out minority stakeholders in Wanda Commercial Properties. The real estate company is part of the Dalian Wanda group that last year fell foul of Chinese authorities for its aggressive overseas expansion in entertainment, hotels and sports.
The deal amounts to a rescue of investors who owned a 14% stake in Wanda Commercial when it de-listed from the Hong Kong stock market. Wanda promised to re-list the company in mainland China or provide guaranteed investment returns. But it has been unable to re-float Wanda Commercial amid its mounting troubles, and bailing out the minority shareholders would have meant adding to its debt burden at a time when it is under pressure to do the opposite.
Tencent is joined by retail giant Suning, e-commerce group JD.com and property investor Sunac China in the rescue move. “This represents one of the world’s largest single strategic investments between Internet companies and brick-and-mortar commercial giants,” Wanda said in a statement.
The move on Wanda comes on top of Tencent’s announcement last week that it was buying a minority stake in Skydance Media, the large Hollywood indie behind the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. It is understood to have acquired close to 10% of Skydance, according to Chinese sources.
Both deals illustrate Tencent’s special position in China. Already the country’s largest social media and games company, it appears to have the power to do overseas deals in the supposedly taboo entertainment sector even as Wanda and others run up against regulatory barriers. Helping rescue Wanda Commercial Properties allows Tencent to play the role of good corporate citizen, keeping the business afloat and reassuring small investors. Cleaning up China’s unwieldy and overblown financial system and managing stock markets has been a major policy of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The move into real estate expands Tencent into the offline sector in a big way: Wanda Commercial Properties bills itself as the world’s biggest commercial property business, with 31.5 million square meters of operating commercial property, including 235 Wanda Plaza shopping malls. The move also puts Tencent alongside other online giants, such as Amazon and Alibaba, that have pushed into retail and sought synergy between e-commerce and traditional shopping.
Suning is already China’s leading online-to-offline exponent, with business areas including electronics, household appliances, maternal and infant care supplies, and fresh produce. JD.com is China’s largest retailer by revenue, and a leader in e-commerce, logistics, technology and finance. Tencent has worked with JD.com in the past.
Sunac is the property company that last year bought Wanda’s leisure businesses and the Wanda studios in Qingdao. Authorities appears to be using Sunac as a buyer of distressed corporate assets; it has also spearheaded the possibly futile rescue of LeEco.
“Following the repositioning of its operations, [the renamed] Wanda Commercial Management Group will utilize the huge online resources owned by Tencent, Suning, and JD.com, and its own vast offline commercial assets to carry out various collaborations, jointly building a new consumption model in China that will integrate both online and offline services, providing Chinese consumers with a more intelligent and more convenient shopping experience, and generating a win-win situation for both brick-and-mortar businesses and Internet companies,” Wanda said in a statement.