Chinese company buys AMC theater chain

The $2.6 billion deal will make Wanda the largest worldwide movie operator.

By Kim Peterson May 21, 2012 12:56PM
Image: Hollywood (© Comstock/SuperStock)The largest Chinese takeover of an American company in history was just announced.

AMC Entertainment Holdings, which had filed plans for an IPO, will instead be sold to the Dalian Wanda Group out of China for $2.6 billion. What a relief for the private equity owners who wanted to unload AMC after buying the chain in 2004.

The Dalian Wanda Group, more informally known as Wanda, will now create the world's biggest movie theater operator after absorbing AMC and its 346 cinemas in North America. Wanda wants to continue to expand AMC, and said it will invest some $500 million into AMC's development in the future.

It looks like Wanda will allow AMC to run fairly independently. It will keep AMC's management and headquarters in Kansas City, and didn't initially announce any layoff plans, according to the Associated Press.

AMC had been the No. 2 movie theater operator in the U.S., with $2.5 billion in sales last year compared with the $2.7 billion for Regal Entertainment Group (RGC).

This was a nice sale for AMC's owners, which include Bain Capital and several other private equity companies. AMC has a ton of debt, and has had difficulty paying that off. The company hasn't made a profit in the recent past, but this past year its financials improved on strong ticket sales.

Apollo Global Management (APO) and a unit of JPMorgan Chase (JPM) bought AMC in 2004 for $2 billion, including debt, Bloomberg reported. The next year, AMC merged with Loews Cineplex Entertainment, which was owned by three other private equity firms.

All of those private equity owners wanted to get some money back. They tried to spin out AMC into an IPO in 2008, but withdrew. They filed again for an IPO in 2010, but shelved those plans as talks with Wanda expanded.

Before the AMC deal, the largest Chinese takeover of an American company had been Lenovo Group's $1.8 billion buyout of IBM's PC business in 2005, Bloomberg reported.