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Business

Dalian Wanda taking lead in US movie theater market

BEIJING -- China's Dalian Wanda Group is about to become the biggest player in the U.S. movie theater market, through stateside subsidiary AMC Entertainment Holdings.

     AMC, America's second-largest theater chain, has struck a $1 billion deal to buy smaller rival Carmike Cinemas. Together, AMC and Carmike have a total of 8,400 screens at more than 600 theaters. That is enough to surpass the current U.S. screen-count leader, Regal Entertainment Group.

     AMC on Thursday said it plans to purchase all Carmike shares for $30 each, making it a wholly owned subsidiary by the end of the year.

Dramatic expansion

Wanda is investing heavily in the movie industry, aiming to make it another core business alongside property development. It bought AMC back in 2012.

     The Chinese group already controls the world's biggest network of theaters, factoring in Chinese unit Wanda Cinema Line and Australia's Hoyts Group. The AMC-Carmike deal will help Wanda accelerate its drive toward a medium-term target of capturing 20% of the global cinema market by 2020.

     China's economic slowdown and concerns about its real estate market motivated Wanda's strategic shift. Aside from cinemas, the company is also prioritizing commercial facilities and tourism.

     Wanda's shopping spree in the movie industry has also included a $3.5 billion deal for U.S. production company Legendary Entertainment, announced in January.

     Chairman Wang Jianlin said Wanda wants to "drive a wedge" into the oligopoly of the world's six biggest film distributors. This suggests the group aspires to become a distributor on the level of Walt Disney and 21st Century Fox.

Debt concerns

The Chinese group's overseas acquisitions also include a U.S. organizer of triathlons, bought last year. But as the company presses ahead with its global expansion, concerns about its financial standing are growing. Interest-bearing debt has swelled.

     In February, three major ratings agencies -- Standard and Poor's, Moody's Investors Service and Fitch -- downgraded their assessments of Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties, the group's Hong Kong-listed development arm, by one notch.

     Wang, however, insisted this will not dissuade Wanda from pursuing overseas targets.

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