In what is believed to be one of the country's largest real estate deals, Sunac China Holdings Ltd is to acquire hotels and cultural and tourism projects from Dalian Wanda Group for 63.2 billion yuan (.3 billion).
A joint statement on Wanda's website yesterday said Sunac, one of the country's largest real estate developers, is to pay 29.6 billion yuan for a 91 percent stake in 13 Wanda projects while 33.6 billion yuan will be spent purchasing 76 Wanda hotels including in Beijing and Wuhan.
Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin told financial magazine Caixin that the deal would cause debt at Wanda's commercial property arm to "drop greatly."
He was quoted as saying: "The funds returned from this will all be used to pay back loans. Wanda Commercial plans to pay back the majority of bank loans within this year."
Wanda was among the most acquisitive players in a flood of Chinese money overseas that raised concerns over "irrational" investments.
The Sunac deal highlights a quandary faced by Chinese corporations that bet big on overseas acquisitions but now face difficulty paying off debts.
Wanda admitted last month that China's banking regulator was looking into potentially risky loans it held.
It said other domestic companies that invested aggressively overseas were also being scrutinized, including Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux — a consortium that purchased football club AC Milan — Club Med's owner Fosun Group, and HNA Group.
The Sunac deal indicates that "Wanda is running out of options to raise funds through normal financing channels," said Ivan Han, a Shanghai-based analyst with financial information provider Morning Whistle.
"Financial institutions don't really want to keep lending money to firms that are targeted by regulatory scrutiny. It doesn't mean their businesses are in trouble. They are just adjusting their financing chains."
But China is likely to see more such deals as companies are forced to pay for rapid expansion, said Michael Every, senior Asia-Pacific strategist for Rabobank.
"Remember Japan in the 1980s?" he said, referring to Japan's asset bubble.
In recent years, companies were encouraged to invest overseas to find new markets, access technology and increase influence.
But regulators have been monitoring the tendency of "irrational" overseas investment in some areas, such as real estate, hotels, film, entertainment and sports clubs. Authorities are also moving aggressively to corral alarming levels of debt and risky lending amid warnings of a potential financial contagion in the world's second-largest economy.
Wanda, which diversified from commercial property into entertainment, theme parks and sports, was at the forefront of the overseas push, spending billions to acquire companies like US-based cinema chain AMC Theaters and Hollywood studio Legendary Entertainment.
Yesterday's announcement marks the latest aggressive move by fast-growing Sunac, which is run by billionaire Sun Hongbin and since last year has purchased dozens of property projects across China.
In January, it came to the rescue of cash-strapped Chinese tech firm LeEco with a US.2 billion investment lifeline.