Feb 28, 2021
Chinese Conglomerate’s $2.3 Billion Share Sale Raises Concerns for Inter Milan
(Bloomberg) -- Embattled Chinese conglomerate Suning Appliance Group Co. has sold off a $2.3 billion stake in its listed arm as it tries to raise cash, amid concerns its struggles could affect a far-ranging array of assets that includes Italian soccer club FC Internazionale Milano SpA.
Suning.com Co. resumed trading on Monday, rising by the 10% daily limit. The jump came after the appliance retailer’s Sunday announcement that state-owned Shenzhen International Holdings Ltd. and Shenzhen Kunpeng Equity Investment Management Co. planned to purchase 8% and 15% of Suning.com.’s shares, respectively, paying a total of 14.8 billion yuan ($2.3 billion).
Suning.com’s local bonds also jumped on Monday, with the company’s 4.9% bond due Nov. 2023 climbing as much as 4.4% to 89.9990 yuan and 5.5% bond due Aug. 2021 rising 4% to 92.59 yuan.
Suning said in a statement on Sunday that the introduction of state-owned investors will help the company further focus on its retail business. Analysts expect the company to divest more non-retail assets as its re-focuses, which could include selling off its 70% stake of Inter Milan. The company on Monday declined to comment further on the stake sale.
The Chinese soccer club Suning owns said over the weekend that it would cease operations, without elaborating.
Concerns about the retail giant’s financial health have been growing since last year, when online talk of a cash crunch pressured bonds issued by Suning.com, the key listed unit -- chatter Suning Appliance at the time dismissed as “rumor.” The pressure on Suning comes at a time when other Chinese conglomerates are in full retreat as Beijing moves to rein in financial risk.
It’s also another blow to China’s billionaires, which includes Suning’s founder Zhang Jindong, as officials move to more closely regulate their flamboyant overseas purchases that have included cinema chains, historic buildings and sports clubs.
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“The non state-owned conglomerates are set to focus more on their main businesses amid the challenging business environment and improve their profitability and efficiency in order to better compete with global rivals,” said Bruce Pang, head of macro research at China Renaissance Securities Hong Kong.
Signs of Strain
The halt of the Chinese soccer club’s operations adds to uncertainty over the future of Inter Milan. Suning acquired a 70% stake of the club for 270 million euros ($306 million at the time) in 2016. The company has since expanded its soccer empire, including a $650 million deal by digital broadcaster PPTV -- a unit of Suning Holdings Co. -- for a three-year television contract with England’s Premier League.
Both Suning.com and its parent face high near-term repayment pressure, according to China Chengxin International Rating Co. A combined 15.8 billion yuan of bonds will be payable this year for the two firms when they are confronting refinancing difficulties, Chengxin said in a report earlier this month.
In a recent sign of liquidity strain, Suning Appliance conducted a swap offer for a yuan bond due Feb. 2. A majority of the holders agreed to exchange the 7.3% note for a new two-year bond carrying the same coupon. In January, Suning Appliance said it pledged 376.5 million shares, or a 4.04% stake, in Suning.com to China Minsheng Banking Corp. to raise funds.
Suning Appliance’s debt risk has also come under further focus after it helped China Evergrande Group avoid a cash crunch by deciding not to demand repayment of a 20 billion yuan strategic investment in the indebted developer. Suning is an Evergrande supplier, and a collapse could have had ripple effects on its business.
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