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Chinese Film Giants Unwind Troublesome Share Stakes

Chinese film studio, Huayi Brothers is selling off its entire interest in GDC, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of cinema management and digital projection systems. Separately, Alibaba is to cut its stake in Enlight Media, producer of recent smash hit “Nezha.”

In a Tuesday filing to the Stock Market, Huayi announced that it is to sell its controlling 91% stake in GDC to Glena Holdings, a company controlled by Dr Chong Man-nang, GDC’s colorful founder. The stake is to be sold for $55 million.

While the regulatory filing reveals GDC to be profitable – it made RMB14.1 million ($1.97 million) in the five months to May 2019 – and to have shareholders equity of RMB35.7 million ($5 million), Huayi is selling the firm at a discount to what it paid. Huayi first bought a stake in GDC in 2012 and is understood to have paid RMB200 million ($28 million) more than it is getting in the sale.

Huayi was badly hit by last year’s Fan Bingbing tax evasion scandal and lost close to $160 million in 2018. It had expected to recover in 2019 with the help of “The Eight Hundred,” a patriotic war epic made on a budget of $80 million and predicted to gross more than $200 million. But the film’s release has been halted by censorship problems. And the company lost a further RMB125 million ($17.5 million) in the first quarter, on revenue that also tumbled to RMB592 million ($82.8 million).

The pressing financial problems have caused Huayi co-founder Dennis Wang to sell some of his high-profile private art collection and the company to dispose of stakes in non-core businesses. In July, Huayi announced the sale and leaseback of RMB40 million ($5.6 million) of film projector equipment.

Alibaba’s Ali Venture Capital unit is to sell nearly a quarter, 2%, of its 8.78% stake in Enlight through a stock market auction process over the next six months.

While Alibaba risks also incurring a loss on the disposal – it paid RMB2.4 billion ($335 million) for the stake in 2015, but sees it currently valued at RMB2.19 billion ($306 million) – the e-commerce giant has no pressing financial need. And the success of “Nezha” has sharply lifted Enlight shares in recent weeks.

Chinese media has speculated instead that the thinking is strategic. Enlight has steadily drifted closer to Tencent, Alibaba’s biggest rival in many aspects of film, streaming, and digital entertainment. In 2016, Enlight bought a controlling stake in Maoyan, the Tencent-backed film ticketing provider that is the biggest competitor of Alibaba’s Tao Piao Piao app. Alibaba said its sale decision was “in line with its future investment plans.”

As some of the wealthiest players in the Chinese entertainment scene, but also relatively latecomers, both Alibaba and Tencent have built up a web of share holdings in other Chinese media players. In addition to its majority owned Alibaba Pictures and Youku operations, Alibaba has smaller stakes in Huayi, Wanda Cinema, short video firm Bilibili (through its Taobao unit), and Bona Film Group.

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