10 iconic American companies owned by Chinese investors

Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com
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Chinese conglomerates have been buying stakes in U.S. companies and real estate for several years. But that still didn't mute the shock in March when word spread that the country's HNA Group was in talks to buy a controlling stake in the publisher of Forbes magazine.

In fact, HNA was one of two Chinese companies reportedly mulling a bid. But the idea of a company from a communist country owning a U.S. news organization caught many people off guard.

Chinese companies, though, own part or all of a number of companies that impact American lives on a daily basis, and many people aren't aware of it. Whether you're going to the movies, washing your clothes or preparing dinner, there's a good chance some of the money you spent to do so eventually found its way to China.

Here's a look at some of the bigger business names that are owned by Chinese companies.

Chicago Stock Exchange

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While this deal is still pending, it cleared a notable hurdle in late December, getting the green light from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The group said it had "no unresolved national security concerns" over the deal, despite some concerns raised in Congress. China's Chongqing Casin Enterprise Group (which says it has no ties to the Chinese government) reportedly wants to use the exchange to give more Chinese companies access to the U.S. market. (The deal is still under review by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.) The price for the exchange was not publicly revealed, but Bloomberg has reported it to be under $100 million.

AMC

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The nation's largest movie theater chain was bought by Dalian Wanda Group in 2012 for $2.6 billion. Chinese businessman Wang Jianlin, who runs Dalian, has a taste for Hollywood, having also bought a major film studio (see below). And last November, AMC added Carmike Cinemas to its holdings for $1.2 billion. Jianlin also tried to buy a controlling stake in Paramount Pictures last year, but parent firm Viacom rejected the offer.

Smithfield Foods

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This $7.1-billion-dollar deal, completed in 2013, remains the largest purchase of an American firm by a Chinese company. Virginia-based Smithfield Foods has been an icon of the American food industry and is best known for its hams (especially its holiday ham). The deal spurred controversy and concern at the time, but Smithfield has thrived, adding jobs and hitting a sales record in 2014.

Legendary Entertainment Group

A still image from the movie "Jurassic World"
Source: Jurassic World

After getting a taste of show business with the AMC purchase, Dalian Wanda bought a movie studio to go with its theaters in 2016. The $3.5 billion deal put Dalian in charge of the co-financer of "Jurassic World," "Warcraft" and "Pacific Rim." Initially, the company planned to fold Legendary into its conglomerate but decided to operate it independently for a while, until the studio can show a steady stream of profits.

GE Appliances

A Sears customer shops near General Electric appliances in Schaumburg, Illinois, September 8, 2014.
Jim Young | Reuters

Stoves, refrigerators, washers and dryers from General Electric have been around for more than 100 years, but starting last year, the appliance division of the iconic company has been Chinese owned. The $5.4 billion deal by Qingdao Haier was China's largest acquisition of an overseas electronics business. GE Appliances remains headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, and still operates as an independent unit.

The Waldorf Astoria

Chinese investment in the U.S. economy is soaring, with such high-profile deals as China's Anbang Insurance purchase of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City for $1.95 billion.
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Anabang Insurance Group, the buyer of this well-known Manhattan hotel, was unknown in 2014, when it paid nearly $2 billion for the establishment. But it has since become a more common name to investors, buying U.S. insurer Fidelity & Guaranty Life last fall and attempting to buy Starwood Resorts, only to lose out to Marriott at the last minute.

Despite that high-purchase profile, it's one of the more mysterious Chinese acquirers, as the leadership at the company is unclear to outsiders. (The company told the Wall Street Journal it is owned by more than 30 corporate investors, but the Journal was unable to verify that.)

Strategic Hotels & Resorts

The Four Seasons hotel in Austin, Texas
Four Seasons

Anabang's interest in the hotel sector wasn't limited to the Waldorf and Starwood. Last year Blackstone Group sold its line of luxury hotels to the Chinese company for $3.93 billion (roughly $6 billion, including debt). The deal put Anabang in charge of 16 properties, including assorted Ritz-Carlton locations in California, the Fairmont Scottsdale in Arizona and the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Riot Games

Source: Riot Games

"League of Legends" is one of the biggest titles in the video game world and is responsible, in part, for the boom in eSports of the past eight years. It's a billion-dollar franchise, but creator Riot Games started as an independent game developer.

In 2011, though, Chinese holding company Tencent bought a majority stake in Riot for $400 million and in 2015 bought the rest of the company for an undisclosed amount. Tencent also holds investment stakes in Activision-Blizzard and "Gears of War" creator Epic Games.

Ingram Micro

Apple iPhones 7 and 7 Plus are seen in an Apple store.
Sefa Karacan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ingram Micro's name may be a bit less familiar to consumers, but the company distributes everything from Apple's iPhone to Cisco's network equipment. Last year China's HNA Group (the same group bidding on Forbes) bought the company for $6 billion.

When the deal was finalized in December, it ended public trading of Ingram's shares, but the company remains headquartered in Irvine, California, with the same CEO.

Motorola Mobility

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Motorola was an early leader in the telecommunications space, dating back to 1928. As mobile devices began to dominate the industry, it spun its handset division off into the independent Motorola Mobility, which was bought by Google in 2012. Two years later, though, the search giant announced it was selling the unit to China-owned Lenovo for $2.9 billion, making Lenovo the world's third-largest smartphone maker.