As Dalian Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin pursues an asset-light strategy with a focus on reducing corporate debt, the company is selling a 12.77% stake in its film unit for RMB 7.8B ($1.24B). The buyers are Hangzhou Zhenxi Investment Management Co, an affiliate of Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group, and the state-owned Cultural Investment Holdings Co.
Alibaba is acquiring a 7.66% stake for RMB 4.68B ($744M), and CIH is taking 5.11% for RMB 3.12B ($496M). This is the first time that Wanda Film Holding has agreed to a major sale of shares to external investors since listing on the Shenzhen exchange in 2015. It comes amid an asset restructuring, with the unit’s trading having been suspended since July. Wanda will retain a 48.1% stake in Wanda Film.
“The main purpose of the equity transfer of Wanda Film Holding is to bring in shareholders with strategic value,” Wanda said, according to Reuters. The unit includes Wanda’s film production, marketing and distribution assets, including more than 500 cinemas, but does not include Legendary Entertainment. In 2016, Wanda said it planned to merge Legendary into the division, but the $5.6B deal to fold it into the publicly traded entity never went through.
This is the latest major foray into the film business by Alibaba, which produces and distributes movies via its Alibaba Pictures Group. But it’s been more cautious than others during the past few years, largely investing on a picture-by-picture basis. In 2016, it took a minority equity stake in Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners.
In what’s beginning to be a case of “another week, another Wanda sale,” the move also follows last week’s news that Tencent Holdings was leading a consortium of investors to acquire a 14% equity stake in Wanda Commercial Properties Co, the flagship subsidiary of the real estate and entertainment conglomerate.
Wanda recently has sold off developments in Australia, London and Los Angeles. Last year it said it was selling off some $9.4B in hotels and tourism projects. This came amid the notorious crackdown on so-called “irrational investments,” with Chinese authorities ordering the country’s biggest banks to stop making loans to Wanda to finance foreign entertainment acquisitions.
Wang recently reported a 10.7% revenue drop for Dalian Wanda in 2017, but predicted a comeback in 2018.
According to local media, the sale of shares to Alibaba and CIH will see them cooperate with Wanda Film on distribution and marketing.