China's Wanda Group Has $5 Billion War Chest for Overseas Acquisitions, Chairman Says

Wang Jianlin - P 2012
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China's richest individual, Wang Jianlin, says his company's acquisition of North American theater chain AMC Entertainment is just the beginning of its global ambitions.

Chinese real estate tycoon Wang Jianlin, who last year bought North America's AMC theater chain for $2.6 billion, says his Wanda group has a war chest of up to $5 billion every year to acquire foreign assets, a potent signal of the group's overseas ambitions.

"Every year we should have around a few billion U.S. dollars," Wang told Reuters in an interview from the fringes of the World Economics Forum in Dalian, a port city in northern China.

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Founded in 1988, Wanda group has assets of $49 billion and $23.15 billion in annual revenue, and Wang said that he's ready to spend north of $5 billion in a single purchase if the right opportunity comes along.

Wang was this week named China's richest person by Forbes magazine, which put his fortune at $14 billion, overtaking the previous title-holder, Zong Qinghou, chairman of local drinks company Hangzhou Wahaha.

Wanda operates 72 Wanda plazas, 38 five-star hotels, more than 6,000 cinema screens, 62 department stores and 68 karaoke outlets.

The group owns over nine million square meters of investment property and has been busy buying up assets in many developed markets, with entertainment a key part of the group's ambitions.

The group gave a clear signal of its intentions in the sector when it acquired AMC Entertainment last year for $2.6 billion.

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Wang, who served in the People's Liberation Army from 1970 to 1986, joined the Communist Party in 1976 and has been a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a top parliamentary advisory body since 2008.

One of Wang's key goals right now is to become a major player in the culture industry, which the ruling Communist Party has identified as a "pillar industry." He expects annual revenues of 80 billion yuan ($13.1 billion) from Wanda's cultural business.

The company will hold opening ceremonies for its new $4.9 billion film studio in the coastal city of Qingdao later this month.

China is keen to boost its "soft power" around the world, and Wanda is a good fit for these ambitions, a giant media organization running cinemas and showing popular films while backed with lots of cash from the real estate market.

Wanda's film company Wanda Media has been involved in Keanu Reeves' directorial debut Man of Tai Chi, Police Story 2013 with Jackie Chan and The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven 3D with Donnie Yen and Chow Yun-fat.

Wang has just completed a $1.57 billion shopping spree in Britain, which included the purchase of luxury British yacht builder Sunseeker and an investment in a 160-room high-rise hotel project in London.

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Other overseas plans include a $1 billion investment in a five-star hotel in New York. He has previously said he wants to build Wanda hotels in eight to 10 cities outside China over the next decade.

China's overseas investments totaled $87.8 billion in 2012, up 17.6 percent from 2011, making it the world's third-largest investor behind the U.S. and Japan, according to Chinese government data.

Wang said he wasn't worried by reports that Washington is taking aim at Chinese investment overseas.

"At first, we were scared, too. We thought if we invested in the United States, we would have to wait a long time. We asked a local lawyer and he also said he wasn't confident of an approval.

"But to our surprise, it's not that complicated. As long as it is a bona fide private firm, as long as it does not involve sensitive industries, I believe there will be no problems" he said.