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Wanda sell-off set to take it closer to mainland relisting

By Luo Weiteng in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-11 07:21

Wanda sell-off set to take it closer to mainland relisting

Performers celebrate as Wanda opens its third theme park in Harbin in June. [Photo/Agencies]

Chinese mainland conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group signed a 63.18 billion yuan ($9.29 billion) deal on Monday to sell 13 cultural tourism projects and 76 hotels to property developer Sunac, a move that could shift its focus to asset-light business and bolster its vision of relisting in the Chinese mainland.

The property-to-entertainment group, which has come under the spotlight for its global acquisition spree, said in a joint statement that it will sell 91 percent of its stake in 13 tourism projects for 29.575 billion yuan, and 76 out of 102 hotels for 33.595 billion yuan.

Sunac, based in Tianjin and listed in Hong Kong, suspended trading of its shares before the market opened on Monday.

The trading halt was once rumored to be related with Sunac's 15.04 billion-yuan investment in cash-strapped entertainment company LeEco, whose worsening financial crisis has dragged share price of Sunac 12 percent lower over the past four trading days, wiping more than HK$8 billion ($1.024 billion) off its market value.

Bolstered by the headline-making deal, the Hong Kong share price of Wanda Hotel Development was up 46.55 percent to close at HK$0.85 on Monday, after rocketing as much as 155.20 percent in the morning session to an intraday high of HK$1.48.

All the projects will continue to be operated under the group's brand name, said the statement. A detailed agreement will be signed by the end of this month.

Wang Jianlin, Asia's richest man who runs Wanda empire, said the deal shows Wanda's determination to set its sight on innovative and asset-light business, including film and television, sports, tourism, internet and finance, according to Chinese mainland business news outlet Caixin.

Such a shift of business strategy is in line with the big-spending conglomerate's overseas investment in football clubs and film studios, the sectors that Wang says are promising but are yet to be developed in the Chinese mainland.

The two companies, in particular, highlight a "strategic partnership" in film and other sectors in the statement.

"Sunac's investment in LeEco may fit well and create synergies with Wanda's ambition of developing innovative and asset-light business. This may make the deal a winning growth formula for both parties," said Hannah Li Wai-han, a strategist at UOB Kay Hian (HK).

Sunac Chairman Sun Hongbin, as quoted by Caixin, said the money used to close the deal is completely out of Sunac's own pocket.

Dismissing investor concern over a possible new financial burden imposed on Sunac, Sun revealed that the company recorded a cash balance of 90 billion yuan on its balance sheet in the first half of 2017, and expects an annual turnover of more than 300 billion yuan.

Wang said all proceeds from the deal would be used to repay loans and lower its debt-to-asset ratio. The conglomerate is looking to pay off the major chunk of its bank loans by the year-end and clear all the debt within the coming three years.

The deal may mark a step closer for Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties, the property unit of Wanda Group, to relist on the mainland and cash in on higher valuations on domestic markets after it delisted in Hong Kong last year.

"Wanda is still trapped in a logjam of firms lining up for IPO approval," said Li. "The conglomerate took a hit from a sell-off last month, which may make it dispose of some of its non-core assets to address the liquidity concern."

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