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Chinese Conglomerate Suning Says Shareholders Will Sell Stake in Retailer

An employee transfers parcels at a logistic base of e-commerce giant Suning before the 618 Shopping Festival on June 11, 2020. VCG/VCG via Getty Images.
An employee transfers parcels at a logistic base of e-commerce giant Suning before the 618 Shopping Festival on June 11, 2020. VCG/VCG via Getty Images. (VCG)

Suning.com Co. said shareholders plan to sell a 20 percent to 25 percent stake in the retailer to unidentified buyers, in the latest sign that parent Suning Appliance Group Co. is working through liquidity issues.

The unit of the Chinese retail and e-commerce conglomerate didn’t give a price, but a 25 percent stake would be valued at as much as 16 billion yuan ($2.5 billion), based on Suning.com’s latest stock price. Suning.com said the shares would be sold to buyers in sectors including infrastructure, according to a statement to the Shenzhen stock exchange.

REDD reported earlier that Suning Appliance was in talks to sell all or part of its stake to a conglomerate of state-owned companies, and Suning.com shares were halted Thursday pending news. Suning.com’s yuan bond due 2023 rose 2 percent, the biggest gain in one month, as of 12:15 p.m. local time, after gaining as much as 5.7 percent in the morning.

Suning Appliance holds a 19.88 percent stake in Suning.com, while the biggest shareholder is billionaire founder Zhang Jindong, with a 20.96 percent stake. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has a 19.99 percnet share, after the two companies formed a strategic alliance announced in 2015.

Concerns about Suning Appliance’s financial health have been raised since last year, when online chatter of a cash crunch pressured bonds issued by the key listed unit. Suning Appliance dispelled the talk as a “rumour” at that time.

Both Suning.com and its parent face high near-term repayment pressure, according to China Chengxin International Rating Co. A combined 15.8 billion yuan of bonds will be payable this year for the two firms when they are confronting refinancing difficulties, the rating firm said in a report earlier this month.

In a recent sign of liquidity strain, Suning Appliance conducted a swap offer for a yuan bond due February 2. A majority of the holders agreed to exchange the 7.3 percent note for a new two-year bond carrying the same coupon.

In January, Suning Appliance said it pledged 376.5 million shares, or a 4.04 percent stake, in Suning.com to China Minsheng Banking Corp. to raise funds.

Suning Appliance’s debt risk has now come under focus after it helped China Evergrande Group avoid a cash crunch by deciding not to demand repayment of a 20 billion yuan strategic investment in the indebted developer. Suning is an Evergrande supplier, so a collapse could have had ripple effects on its business as well.

Nanjing-based Suning.com is one of the largest retailers of appliances, electronics and other consumer goods in China. The company closed about 1,000 self-owned shops in the first nine months of last year, bringing the total to 2,697, including the China operations of French supermarket Carrefour SA which it acquired a majority stake in last year. It also has 6,588 franchised stores, according to its third-quarter financial report.

The company reported a 93 percent drop in net income for the third quarter, after a net loss in the first six months amid weak demand and temporary store closures during the pandemic.

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