Wanda Looks West With AMC Play

The New York Times profiles Chinese real estate magnate Wang Jianlin, whose Wanda Group has entered into an agreement to take over U.S. cinema chain AMC Entertainment:

Mr. Wang, 57, is regarded as one of the most successful Chinese real estate tycoons. His $17 billion empire includes huge commercial property developments, five-star hotels, tourist resorts, a film and television production company and Asia’s largest cinema network.

Now, by paying $2.6 billion to acquire AMC, the Wanda Group is extending its reach globally. The deal, announced Sunday, is still subject to the approval of United States regulators, though there are no hints it will be blocked. The purchase signifies a new era for Mr. Wang and in China’s development. Companies here are moving away from low-cost manufacturing and going abroad in search of natural resources and global consumer brands, part of an effort to upgrade the nation’s economy.

Wanda is a private company in a nation dominated by state-owned enterprises. But the AMC deal is closely aligned with the Chinese government’s priorities, which include encouraging Chinese companies to “go global,” pushing an overhaul of Chinese media and entertainment properties and placing greater emphasis on consumer spending.

Policy makers in Beijing also want to bolster China’s “soft power” capabilities to extend its cultural influence internationally, and the film industry is considered one of the most promising avenues for doing so.

The article also notes that Wang got his start in Dalian, the coastal city where Bo Xilai kickstarted his political career, though Wang dismissed any notion that his ties to Bo would threaten Wanda. AMC’s chief executive hailed the proposed deal, which both sides claim will create the world’s largest cinema operator, as a “unique combination.” For the Los Angeles Times, Richard Verrier and David Pierson write that Wanda’s bid for AMC may spur other purchases by Chinese investors:

The deal announced Sunday — which pairs China’s biggest theater operator with the second-largest chain in the U.S. — marks the largest investment to date by a Chinese company in the U.S. entertainment industry. Most of the deal making has been Hollywood companies striking business deals in China.

But Wanda’s move to buy AMC could turn the traffic in the other direction, setting the stage for a string of similar moves by other Chinese investors looking to diversify and raise their global profile by scooping up blue-chip American entertainment properties. AMC is owned by Apollo Investment Fund, Carlyle Group and other investors who bought the company in 2004.

Some see parallels with the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Japanese companies acquired a number of prized U.S. assets, including Hollywood studios such as MCA-Universal and Columbia Pictures and crown jewels such as New York’s Rockefeller Center and California’s Pebble Beach golf course.

“More and more Chinese companies are going to try to come in and buy American businesses, just like Japanese companies did in the 1980s,” said Sean Yu, a Los Angeles-based executive director at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney who advises Chinese investors. “They want to increase their prestige and their reputation.”