Chinese conglomerate Wanda sells theme park business

By JOE McDONALD Markets Associated Press

Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group, owner of Hollywood's Legendary Entertainment, is selling most of its theme parks, retreating from a business it once said would rival Walt Disney Co.

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Wanda says it will sell 13 parks and 76 hotels to a Chinese buyer, Sunac China Holdings Ltd., for 63.2 billion yuan ($9.3 billion) but will continue to manage the properties.

The surprise sale gives Wanda revenue to pay down debt following a rapid expansion into entertainment, tourism and other consumer businesses.

Wanda founder Wang Jianlin is one of China's richest businesspeople with a net worth estimated to exceed $30 billion. He said last year he wanted to challenge Disney as a global theme park brand.

Wanda is part of a wave of Chinese companies that have been on a multibillion-dollar global buying spree to diversify their businesses as explosive economic growth at home cools.

Chinese regulators have tapped the brakes on that expansion, telling banks to examine whether borrowers are taking on too much debt, according to Chinese news reports.

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Wanda became the world's biggest cinema operator with its purchase of U.S. chain AMC in 2012 and added rival Carmike Cinemas Inc. last year in a $1.2 billion deal.

It bought Legendary Entertainment last year for $3.5 billion. In November, it paid $1 billion for Dick Clark Productions, which produces the Golden Globes and the "Miss America" pageant.

Wanda, which also has interests in shopping malls, real estate development and other businesses, removed its publicly traded shares from the Hong Kong stock exchange last year and releases few details of its finances.

The Chinese business magazine Caixin quoted Wang as saying Wanda's debt load "at this point isn't heavy," though it gave no details.

"This recoup of funds will all be used to pay off loans, and Wanda plans to pay off most of its bank loans by the end of this year," the magazine quoted Wang as saying following the announcement of the theme park sale.