July 10, 2017 – Dalian Wanda Group said it would sell Chinese tourism projects and hotels to Sunac China for US$9.3 billion, marking a step back for the property giant from its theme park ambitions.
The sale – the second-biggest real estate deal ever in China – is however expected to help Wanda cut its debt pile and strengthen its case for a listing on the mainland after it delisted from Hong Kong last year.
Wanda said it would sell 91 percent of 13 cultural tourism projects, that typically include theme parks and leisure complexes, as well as 76 hotels to the acquisitive Tianjin-based developer Sunac for a total of 63.18 billion yuan.
The Chinese group, with businesses spanning real estate, films, sports and entertainment, had plans to build at least 20 such cultural projects around China. Its billionaire owner Wang Jianlin had last year said his “wolf pack” of parks would beat U.S. rival Walt Disney Co.
“This (deal) signifies a retreat from Wanda’s previous strategy in cultural tourism, and marks a pivot to an asset-light strategy,” said Qin Gang, senior researcher at State Information Center, a government-linked thinktank.
While Wanda did not give a reason for the sale, local business magazine Caixin quoted Wang saying the deal would greatly reduce Wanda Commercial’s debt level and help the property unit to achieve an “asset-light” operation.
“Through this asset transfer, Wanda Commercial’s debt ratio will be greatly reduced, all the proceeds will be used to repay loans. Wanda Commercial plans to repay most of the bank loans this year,” Wang told Caixin.
S&P downgraded Wanda Commercial in December citing rising financial leverage and slower-than-expected asset disposal at China’s largest commercial developer. Another downgrade would push the rating into “junk” category.
Wanda has been investing heavily in entertainment, leisure and financial businesses and the buying spree has drawn the attention of Chinese regulators, who ordered lenders last month to assess exposure to overseas deals by Wanda, HNA Group, Anbang Insurance and Fosun.
Wanda had earmarked a more than 300 billion yuan investment for its cultural and tourism projects. It has also been very active globally, buying U.S. cinema chain operator AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc and taking a controlling stake in U.S. film studio Legendary Entertainment last year.