A Dalian Wanda ski resort at Wanda City in Harbin, north-eastern China © EPA
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Dalian Wanda, one of China’s largest property groups, quietly sold its interest in its largest ski resort to a friendly company earlier this year.
The sale, uncovered by a search of corporate records, revealed what appeared to be an effort by Wanda to rebuild its finances amid government pressure to rein in its dealmaking activities.
Corporate registry information on the Changbaishan ski resort, in China’s north-west near the North Korean border, was changed in June to show that Dalian Yifang group holds 98.33 per cent of Changbaishan stock and Wanda is no longer on the shareholder list.
The price and the timing were not immediately available. Dalian Wanda declined to comment.
But the sale, revealed by local Chinese language outlet thepaper.cn, indicated that the Chinese conglomerate might have been facing financial pressure even before it sold off a huge chunk of its real estate portfolio in July.
The transaction comes as the group’s financial standing is pressured. In September, S&P Global downgraded its property development arm, Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties, to a junk rating over concerns about Dalian Wanda Group’s outlook and access to funding.
A month after the Changbaishan project was apparently sold, in July, Wanda agreed to sell 13 tourism assets to Tianjin-based property developer Sunac China for $6.5bn. Analysts suggested the speed and pricing of the deal indicate it was done under duress and aimed at bailing out Wanda’s finances in the wake of regulatory scrutiny.
Opened in 2012, Changbaishan resort was the one of the jewels in the Wanda crown, the “largest tourism project in China” with an investment of Rmb21bn ($3bn), according to the conglomerate’s website.
The 21 sq km complex in China’s north-west includes 43 ski slopes, five-star Park Hyatt and Westin hotels, and a hot springs bathhouse. An 18-hole golf course was designed by professional player Jack Nicklaus while a 36-hole course was designed by golf course architect Robert Jones.
Regulators had instructed banks to restrict exposure to the property-to-film conglomerate in a meeting on June 20, according to notes of the session that were seen by the Financial Times.
Wanda is one of a group of privately owned conglomerates, including HNA Group, Anbang Insurance Group, and Fosun International, that have come under scrutiny in recent months, with a particular focus on their overseas acquisitions. Wanda was forced by regulators earlier this year to abandon an attempt to buy US TV studio Dick Clark Productions.
Chinese regulators are seeking to stop the country’s tycoons from frivolously spending Beijing’s hard-earned currency reserves on non-essential economic assets in sectors such as entertainment.
Founder and group chairman Wang Jianlin tumbled from his position as China’s richest man, according to the country’s best-known rich list, falling to fifth place in this year’s Hurun ranking.