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Wanda Film Sells $1.24 Billion Stake to Alibaba, China’s Cultural Investment Holdings

Dalian Wanda is to sell a 13% stake in listed subsidiary Wanda Film Holdings to Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and to state-owned enterprise Cultural Investment Holdings. The deal, announced Monday, is valued at $1.24 billion (RMB7.8 billion).

Alibaba will take the slightly larger slice of the company, paying $744 million (RMB4.68 billion). CIH, which is controlled by the Beijing city authorities but has its own share listing, will take the remainder.

The deal will dilute privately held Dalian Wanda’s share of its film subsidiary to less than an outright majority. After the sale, it will own 48.1%.

“The main purpose of the equity transfer of Wanda Film Holdings is to bring in shareholders with strategic value,” Dalian Wanda said in a statement. It specified that it expects the deal to give it access to Alibaba’s massive trove of consumer data. It also said that the relationship with CIH could create opportunities in cultural tourism and theme parks.

Wanda Film Holdings (previously Wanda Cinema Line) encompasses all of Dalian Wanda’s market-leading multiplex cinema operations in mainland China, as well as most of its production and distribution operations. A restructuring of Wanda’s film businesses has been on the cards for almost two years since the announcement of the controversial acquisition of Legendary Entertainment in early 2016, one of a string of aggressive transactions that have left Wanda with a mountain of debt and aroused the ire of Chinese authorities.

The new deal with Alibaba and CIH comes on the heels of last week’s announcement of a $5.3 billion cash injection into Wanda Commercial Properties by social media and games giant Tencent and e-commerce operator JD.com, among others. A pattern is emerging of China’s leading tech companies being corralled into bailouts of state-owned enterprises and too-big-to-fail private companies such as Dalian Wanda.

The bailouts appear to be part of a major government campaign to neutralize risks in the financial system caused by over-borrowing in the private and public sectors, and by the hiding of large debts in off-balance-sheet vehicles. With both the capital and cachet to effect change, China’s wealthy and fast-moving tech companies are seen by the Beijing regime as appropriate actors in this kind of turnaround.

Just two years ago, when it purchased Legendary for a reported $3.5 billion, Wanda was riding high, and its chairman, Wang Jianlin, was the wealthiest person in China. The group began to sell small slices of its film subsidiary to friendly firms and institutions.

But the process was halted by a regulatory call for greater clarity and then the exposure of the extent of losses at Legendary. Later in 2016 and through 2017, Wanda has been the target of government action against companies that have grown too fast through overseas acquisition and those that are too heavily leveraged.

Wanda Film Holdings saw its shares suspended for most of 2017, pending clarification of its planned restructuring. Last August, it emerged that Legendary would not be rolled into the Chinese film unit.

In an attempt to cut debt, Wanda has offloaded much of its leisure and theme park properties in mainland China and its film studio in Qingdao. Overseas it has sold off development properties in the U.K. Last week it emerged that it plans to sell off its U.S. properties in Chicago and Beverly Hills, California.

Two hotel and development properties in Australia were also sold, though Wanda has specified that it will continue to manage them. That follows a pattern established earlier with the Chinese leisure developments, which Wanda intends to continue operating, even if it has to give up ownership in the near term.

 

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