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China's Wanda has $5 billion a year for foreign acquisitions

By Koh Gui Qing

DALIAN, China (Reuters) - Chinese property developer Dalian Wanda Group says it can afford to spend as much as $5 billion every year to buy foreign firms or assets, underscoring the rising clout of the firm as it expands abroad.

Just weeks after completing its buy-out of British yacht maker Sunseeker International Ltd, Chairman Wang Jianlin says that he's prepared to spend even more than $5 billion in a single acquisition if the right opportunity arises.

Wang, ranked as China's richest man by Forbes this week, said the company will continue to focus on the hospitality and entertainment industries.

"Every year we should have around a few billion U.S. dollars," said Wang, who was speaking in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economico Forum in Dalian, northern China.

Wanda Group, a privately-held conglomerate that operates businesses ranging from hotels and shopping malls to cinemas, has expanded rapidly outside China in recent years.

In June, Wang told Reuters that he planned to invest about $1 billion to build a five-star hotel in New York and that he wanted to build Wanda hotels in eight to 10 cities outside China over the next decade in an effort to increase the company's global presence.

The New York announcement followed a 1 billion pound ($1.57 billion) British investment that included the acquisition of Sunseeker, Britain's largest luxury yacht maker by sales, and the construction of a 160-room Wanda hotel and apartment building in London.

Wanda made its first international foray last year, buying U.S. cinema chain AMC Entertainment for $2.6 billion.

The company announced on Wednesday that it would hold opening ceremonies for its new 30 billion yuan ($4.90 billion) film studio in the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao later this month.

China's overseas investments totaled $87.8 billion in 2012, up 17.6 percent from 2011, making it the world's third-largest investor behind the U.S. and Japan, according to a report jointly released by China's Ministry of Commerce, the National Bureau of Statistics, and the State Administration of Foreign Exchange.

Concerns that Chinese investments overseas are hindered by rising regulatory scrutiny are also unfounded, Wang said, blaming "sensational media reports" for stirring undue worries.

The U.S. government is not hostile to investment from overseas, and likewise China's regulation of foreign investment is not as stringent as some think, he said.

"At first, we were scared too. We thought if we invested in the United States, we would have to wait a long time. We asked a local lawyer and he also said he wasn't confident of an approval.

"But to our surprise, it's not that complicated. As long as it is a bona fide private firm, as long as it does not involve sensitive industries, I believe there will be no problems."

Wanda has succeeded in closing overseas deals for service-sector acquisitions and investments while Chinese companies in more sensitive fields such as resources and telecommunications have often faced opposition when trying to buy foreign assets.

Dalian Wanda Group, which was founded in 1988, has 300 billion yuan ($49.02 billion) in total assets and 141.7 billion yuan ($23.15 billion) in annual revenue, according to the company.

Group real estate assets include 72 Wanda Plazas across China, along with 40 five-star hotels. The company also owns 6,000 movie screens, 62 department stores and 68 karaoke centers.

Forbes estimates that Wang's fortune now stands at $14 billion, more than that of Zong Qinghou, chairman of local drinks company Hangzhou Wahaha.

(Writing by Jonathan Standing; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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