A Chinese property group is close to buying Sunseeker, Britain's largest luxury yacht maker by sales, underscoring the growing appetite for European luxury assets among Chinese buyers.
Dalian Wanda is expected to pay about £300 million for Sunseeker, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The transaction is likely to be finalized before the end of this month.
"We bought the best yacht company in the UK," Wang Jianlin, the chairman and founder of Beijing-based Wanda, said, although he did not name Sunseeker.
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The acquisition of the yacht maker, which is based in Poole, Dorset, highlights the growing number of Chinese companies trying to acquire top-end brands and technology in Europe to satisfy domestic hunger for western luxury and fashion.
Mr Wang is a well-known fan of Sunseeker yachts. In 2010, his group bought a rocket-shaped Sunseeker Predator 108 Special Edition, which is used by the villain in the James Bond movie Casino Royale .
Sunseeker boats generally feature large cabins, convertible sunroofs and spa tubs. Famous owners include French footballer Marcel Desailly, former Formula One team boss Eddie Jordan and driver Nigel Mansell.
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In addition to the Sunseeker deal, Wanda is eyeing a large investment in a luxury London hotel, according to Mr Wang, who said the two investments combined would be worth more than £1 billon. He said regulatory approval for the deals from both Britain and China had been obtained.
Wanda, which last year bought US cinema chain AMC Entertainment for $2.6bn, follows Shandong Heavy Industry, which also snapped up a luxury yachtmaker that stumbled through the financial crisis.
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In 2011, Shandong acquired Ferretti, the Italian owner of the Riva, Bertram and Pershing yacht brands, from its lenders, which had taken control following a debt restructuring.
London-based private equity group Candover had previously purchased Ferretti in a €1.7bn leveraged buyout at the height of the credit bubble in 2006.
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If the Sunseeker deal goes ahead, Dalian Wanda is expected to keep all the manufacturing and design operations in Poole, protecting the jobs of the 2,500 people the yacht maker employs in the area.
FL Partners, the Irish private equity owner of Sunseeker, began holding talks with Wanda late last year. The firm took over the yacht maker in 2010 through a debt restructuring after the company slumped to a loss the year before.
Wanda, a conglomerate that spans hotels to cinemas to shopping malls, has used its $23 billon in annual revenues to go on an overseas shopping spree. Last year its purchase of AMC made it the biggest cinema owner in the world. The AMC buyout included an infusion of $500 million to be spent over time for strategic and operating initiatives.
— Additional reporting by Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, Ed Hammond and Martin Arnold