China’s clampdown on outbound investment hasn’t stopped Wanda Group from moving ahead with at least one overseas real estate project, as the Beijing-based conglomerate has completed its £470 million ($605.3 million) acquisition of Nine Elms Square in London.
Wanda has purchased the 10.2-acre (4.13 hectare) site in the city’s Vauxhall area near the Battersea power station from a joint venture of UK developer St. Modwen Properties and French construction giant Vinci, according to a Monday announcement on the London Stock Exchange by St. Modwen. The parties had exchanged contracts on the sale in late June.
The closing of the sale comes during the same month that Wanda announced a restructuring of more than $4.5 billion of its overseas assets, as the conglomerate controlled by billionaire Wang Jianlin comes under pressure from Chinese regulators determined to rein in debt and curb outflows of foreign currency.
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Wanda is picking up the site through an unlisted Hong Kong unit, Wanda Commercial Properties (Hong Kong), or Wanda HK. St. Modwen first announced the deal on June 21, saying it expected the transaction to be completed later in the summer, following the demolition of the former flower market standing on the site.
Under the terms of the agreement, Wanda will take over the development of the Nine Elms Square project, which has received outline approval for three residential towers of between 32 and 54 storeys yielding 1,821 apartments. The site is directly adjacent to another Wanda project, the long-delayed One Nine Elms development.
Wanda HK also owns a 40 percent stake in the One Nine Elms project, in which listed Hong Kong unit Wanda Hotel Development holds the remaining 60 percent.
Wanda acquired the One Nine Elms site for £88.8 million in 2013, in the group’s first British property play, but has struggled to develop what market sources have told Mingtiandi is a challenging site. One Nine Elms is already on its third general contractor after two previous engineering firms walked away.
Wanda Picks Up a UK Project Amid Restructuring Drive
The news of Wanda picking up Nine Elms Square comes less than two weeks after Wanda announced a major restructuring that would see Wanda Hotel Development sell nearly $4.5 billion in overseas real estate projects to a privately held company controlled by Wang and his family.
Analysts believe that the asset restructuring could be a prelude to Wanda Group disposing of these overseas properties as developers come under pressure to cut back on overseas acquisitions and trim debt. On Friday, China’s State Council announced new rules limiting overseas real estate acquisitions by Chinese companies, and Wanda is already being punished by authorities for its “irrational” deals.
Wanda’s efforts to reduce debt have made more progress in China, where the group last month sold off a portfolio of 77 hotels to Guangzhou’s R&F Properties for RMB 19.9 billion ($2.9 billion) and a 91 percent stake in 13 theme park developments to Tianjin’s Sunac China for RMB 43.8 billion ($6.5 billion), in the country’s bigger-ever real estate deal.
New Rules Throw a Wrench in Wanda’s Outbound Binge
When Wanda signed with its European partners for the Nine Elms Square deal in late June, it was uncertain whether the company’s cheque would clear. The property and entertainment group, which has committed to over $6 billion in foreign real estate since 2013, had already been singled out for scrutiny by China’s banking regulators for its debt-fueled outbound investment spree that was said to pose a systemic risk to the country’s economy.
Later in June, Chinese regulators reportedly froze bank lending to Wanda for six overseas entertainment projects, including American cinema chain AMC and film producer Legendary Entertainment. In late July, Wang stated that his company would keep its major acquisitions within China in the future – a pledge that happened after Wanda had reached agreement on the Nine Elms Square deal.