In what is thought to be the Middle Kingdom’s second-largest property deal ever, Wang Jianlin’s Dalian Wanda Group said today it is selling 76 hotels and 91% of 13 tourism projects to developer Sunac China for $9.3B. While Wanda did not give a reason for the sale, Wang told Chinese financial daily Caixin that funds will be used to reimburse most of Wanda’s bank loans, resulting in an “asset-light” operation. Wanda Hotel Development shares rose as much as 150% on the news.
Notably, the tourism projects include theme parks which Wang proclaimed in 2016 would be a “wolf pack” compared to Disney’s lone “tiger.” Disney “should not have come to China,” he said at the time. Last month, the Shanghai Disney Resort celebrated its one-year anniversary and more than 10M guests. Wanda’s Nanchang park had a reported 1.3M visitors in its first seven month.
While marking a retreat from the theme park business, could the deal signal that Wanda is turning its focus deeper into entertainment? Bloomberg suggests that the sale will help fund Wang’s broader ambitions to move away from Wanda’s core property roots to expand its entertainment empire.
Last week, Wanda Film shares were suspended on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange due to “plans to acquire film-related assets.” In a statement on its website today, Wanda said it and Sunac have agreed to a “comprehensive strategic cooperation in a number of areas such as film.”
But the aggressive Wanda, which owns AMC and Legendary, has come under fire in the U.S. from lobbyists concerned about its increased investment in media companies.
Also in the past year, Wanda scrapped a $1B deal to acquire dick clark productions amid tighter controls on capital outflow by the PROC’s powers that be. The company is reportedly one of the big buyers that is being scrutinized by the Middle Kingdom’s banking regulator.
Today’s announced sale also is expected to help Wanda set a better stage for a mainland IPO, according to Reuters.
In September 2016, Wang promised that by 2020 Wanda would be a public company worth more than $200B with annual revenues of at least $100B and net profits of $10B or more. But at the time, some execs privately raised an uncomfortable question: Is Wanda reaching the end of its rope financially — or politically?
Wang’s company makes most of its money from real estate. And some watchers told Deadline last year that he has bet too heavily on malls in tier-two and tier-three cities in China where local economies have stalled.
While Wanda will continue to manage and operate the projects under its brand, the sell-off marks a pull-back from the theme park business about which Wang has been vocally bullish. Ahead of the opening of Wanda’s Nanchang Wanda City park last year, he told CCTV, “This craze for Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck is over. The period when we would blindly follow where Disney led has been gone for years.” He further talked about making sure Disney “is not profitable for 10 to 20 years” in the theme park business in China.
“Shanghai has one Disney, while Wanda, across the nation, will open 15 to 20,” he said. Shanghai Disneyland has seen more than 10M guests in its first year, setting it on track for faster profits than those The Mouse saw from parks in Paris and Hong Kong, Reuters reported last month.
In late July last year, Wanda shuttered its indoor Wanda Movie Park in Wuhan citing a need for upgrades. It has not yet re-opened.
Shares in Tianjin-based Sunac, which also has investments in ailing LeEco, were suspended in Hong Kong on Monday ahead of a “substantial acquisition,” CNBC reported.