Beijing-based Dalian Wanda Group filed papers Thursday to bring its commercial property business back to the Hong Kong stock market, as the developer controlled by billionaire Wang Jianlin looks to end five years marooned as a private firm after an ill-fated exit from the HKEX in 2016 in hopes of listing on a mainland Chinese exchange.
The cornerstone investors in the unit, now dubbed Zhuhai Wanda Commercial Management Group, include Hong Kong private equity shop PAG, developer Country Garden, investment firm CITIC Capital and tech giants Tencent and Ant, according to a draft application filed with the HKEX.
Wanda Commercial operates 380 Wanda Plaza malls in mainland China — including 280 owned by the parent group and 100 more held by independent third parties — with gross floor area under management of 54.2 million square metres (583.4 million square feet) and 162 projects in the pipeline.
“Since we commenced managing Wanda Plazas in 2002, we have accumulated extensive operational experience and unique industry insights, established mature operation and tenant sourcing systems, and equipped ourselves with strong technology and data analysis capabilities,” Wanda Commercial said, adding that the company began managing malls owned by third parties in 2015 as it began attempts at transitioning from operating as a developer to becoming a fund manager.
Second Time Around
If an IPO eventuates, it will be mark the return of Wanda’s mall business to the Hong Kong exchange after Wang led a $4.4 billion buyout of the firm in September 2016. The company announced in March that it was giving up its nearly six-year quest to list on a mainland stock exchange.
Wanda Commercial recorded a 2020 net profit of RMB 1.1 billion ($172 million), which was down 8.8 percent year-on-year. Revenues, however, rose 28.4 percent to RMB 17.2 billion in the same period, the company said in the draft application. For the first six months of 2021 it reported a net profit of RMB 655.5 million, down 19.8 percent year-on-year, on revenue of RMB 6.1 billion, up 27.1 percent.
The document was silent on how much money the company aims to raise with the prospective listing. The South China Morning Post, citing media reports, said Wanda Commercial is targeting up to $4 billion from the offering.
Reuters reported last month that the parent group had raised nearly $6 billion for Wanda Commercial ahead of the IPO, including $2.8 billion from PAG and the rest from the likes of Country Garden, CITIC Capital, Tencent and Ant.
Wanda Commercial, which will manage but not own Wanda’s retail properties, earns its revenue by collecting a slice — typically from 20 to 40 percent — of the net operating income generated from projects under its management, according to the draft application.
Friends in Zhuhai
In March, Wanda Commercial announced that it had signed an agreement under which the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, an entity controlled by the government of the southern city of Zhuhai, would invest RMB 3 billion in a firm spun out from the developer.
The terms of the deal stipulated that Wanda Commercial must reorganise its non-development activities under the name of Wanda Light Assets Commercial Management, to be incorporated in Zhuhai with Wanda Commercial as the parent firm. A Wanda insider told Chinese website Sohu.com that the purpose of the restructuring was to prepare the company to go public.
A listing would help Wanda fulfil a pledge made to four strategic investors more than three years ago.
In January 2018, Tencent’s QQ Music division, Suning.com, JD.com and developer Sunac China Holdings agreed to invest about RMB 34 billion to acquire a 14 percent stake in Wanda Commercial. The deal between Wanda and the four investors required Wanda Commercial to complete a listing before 31 October 2023, though the terms did not specify a listing location.
Building Back Lighter
Although keen to play down the developer tag and reposition itself as an investment manager, Wanda Commercial remained China’s top developer by operating income last year with RMB 35.5 billion ($5.4 billion), a full RMB 21 billion ahead of nearest rival Red Star Macalline, according to data provider CRIC.
But the conglomerate helmed by Wang, once Asia’s richest man, is a far cry from its heyday in the middle years of the last decade, when the group built a $5 billion overseas real estate portfolio. Since that peak, Wanda has liquidated its assets worldwide as mainland authorities targeted major cross-border investors as part of a crackdown on outbound capital flows.
In March, the group disclosed that it had ceded majority control of AMC Theatres, the world’s biggest cinema chain, which it had purchased outright for $2.6 billion in 2012 — the retreat serving as a potent symbol of Wanda’s faded global ambitions.