Actress Zhao Wei abandons 3b yuan bid for Shanghai animation studio


Billionaire actress Zhao Wei has suffered a major setback in her quest to profit from stock investments in China, after local banks declined to extend credit lines to the celebrity for a 3 billion yuan acquisition of a little-known animation company listed in Shanghai.

The acquisition target, Zhejiang People Culture, plunged by its 10 per cent daily limit on Thursday morning upon trading resumption. For the past week Chinese securities regulators have been looking into Zhao’s source of funding and the buyer, Longwei Culture & Media, owned by the Chinese star.

In a dramatic twist, Zhao’s venture said on Thursday the reason it had to abandon its bid for a controlling 29 per cent stake of the animation firm was that a number of Chinese banks, which it did not name in its filing to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, had turned down its request for financing.

That is bound to take much of the shine off the legendary success of Zhao — one of the wealthiest actresses on the planet — in pocketing millions of dollars of gains from trading stocks in the mainland and Hong Kong. She was even once dubbed China’s female version of Warren Buffett for her spectacular track record of cashing in on companies whose shares later skyrocketed.

Zhao shot to fame overnight in China in the 1990s thanks to her hit drama My Fair Princess, and had ruled the Chinese cinema screens for years, although it has not been until the past few years that her exploding fortune propelled her into China’s ultra wealthy club. Jointly named by the Hurun Report as 35th on the list of richest billionaires under 40, Zhao and her husband Huang Youlong are estimated to boast a net worth of US$1 billion, according to the ranking released in February, 2016.

But this time, it appears the 41-year-old former kindergarten teacher’s magic in turning fame into money is not always there.

Longwei said the initial financing agreement it had reached with a branch of an unnamed bank in December had been rejected by the lender’s head office on January 20, without elaborating on reasons, ahead of the Lunar New Year.

“Then we tried to negotiate a deal with other banks several times, but all of them had said they would not lend us money,” the company said in a response to queries from the Shanghai Stock Exchange over why it could not secure financing for the share buyout.

Earlier this week, the Zhao vehicle said it had decided to acquire only 5 per cent stake in the animation firm for 529 million yuan.

That is a sharp reversal from a 3 billion yuan bid it had made in December for a controlling 29 per cent stake of Zhejiang People Culture, which could have become the largest equity investment by the billionaire actress after she and her Singaporean husband’s HK$3.1 billion purchase of Jack Ma’s Alibaba Pictures in 2014.

Market watchers coming back from the Christmas weekend were stunned by what they called “a tremendously leveraged buyout” as what Zhao committed as capital to back the takeover was a negligible 60 million yuan, with the remaining 3 billion yuan to be borrowed from financial firms.

That has fuelled concerns from the Chinese securities watchdog. Leveraged buyouts have a notorious history, sometimes resulting in bankruptcies because the assets of acquired firms and investors were often used as collateral and the financing costs can be too high to be covered.

By Celine Ge / South China Morning Post


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