China firm forays into British yacht, hotel markets

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group will invest nearly US$1.6 billion (S$2 billion) to acquire a British yacht maker and build London's tallest residential towers, state media reported on Wednesday.

The plans mark the latest foray by Chinese investors into the West's luxury market at a time when Europe is grappling with the eurozone debt crisis.

Wanda Group, a private firm with interests ranging from property to tourism and retail, will spend 320 million pounds (S$631 million) to buy 91.8 per cent in British yacht builder Sunseeker, the official Xinhua news agency said.

It will invest another 700 million pounds to construct a "super five star" hotel and residential compound in downtown London, including towers of 200m high - claimed to be the tallest in the city, it reported.

The announcement came after the firm, owned by one of China's richest men, last year signed an agreement with AMC Entertainment to acquire the US cinema chain for US$2.6 billion. Chinese media reported Wanda would pay an additional US$500 million after the takeover.

Wanda, which has total assets of 300 billion yuan (S$61 billion), was founded in 1988. Its net profit topped 10 billion yuan last year, which the company aims to double by 2015, according to its website.

Company officials did not respond to queries about the two deals on Wednesday.

China is encouraging its companies to buy up assets around the globe, as the world's second-largest economy seeks to diversify the portfolio of its foreign exchange stockpile - the largest in the world at US$3.44 trillion - acquire resources and expand its share of world markets.

The country's overseas investment in non-financial sectors in January-May rose 20 per cent year-on-year to US$34.3 billion, according to the latest figures announced Tuesday.

In one of the most high-profile acquisitions, privately-owned Chinese auto maker Geely bought Sweden's Volvo Cars from Ford Motor in 2010 for US$1.5 billion.

The two main shareholders in upmarket holiday group Club Mediterranee, including China's Fosun, said last month that they would make a bid to buy all shares in the company.