Chinese tycoons' pursuit of high-profile overseas assets can seem random, with the latest—a recycling businessman's bid for the New York Times—perhaps the most puzzling.
But consider them as quests for prestige, power and political standing. Smart entrepreneurs are increasingly using overseas acquisitions as a tool to boost their status inside and outside China.
Yes, the main goals are still financial return, a safe place to put cash, and diversification. But well-done deals can also raise buyers' political standing, add to their credibility with lenders and suppliers, and increase their popularity among customers and even job applicants in China.
Unlike the bureaucrats who run state-owned companies, private-sector businessmen don't need to follow Beijing's agenda, such as buying natural resources to satisfy China's growing needs. But they can still serve China's development goals, and realize rewards for it.
'Chinese businessmen understand that if they help the government solve its problems, they get various support from the government in return,' said Oliver Rui, a finance professor at the China Europe International Business School and co-director of its Kaifeng Centre for Family Heritage. The main government support they want, he added, is financing.
Perhaps the best evidence of deals paying status dividends is the acquisition of U.S. movie-theater chain AMC Entertainment Holdings by Dalian Wanda Group, controlled by Wang Jianlin. Besides netting Mr. Wang a large return after AMC's initial public offering, it dramatically raised the standing of China's film industry in Hollywood and helped Beijing in its effort to export Chinese culture to the West.
Beijing rewarded Mr. Wang, the country's richest man, with financial support; state banks including China Development Bank and Export-Import Bank of China provided funding for the AMC deal. Top officials attended the signing ceremony. And the success of this investment will likely help Wanda win approval for future acquisitions abroad, as well as access to credit at home.
Further benefits were apparent when Wanda Group last year opened Oriental Movie Metropolis in Qingdao, an $8 billion movie studio billed as the world's largest. Hollywood power brokers and movie stars, who in the past might well have ignored such a far-off event, flocked to the opening. Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman and Catherine Zeta-Jones were among those walking the red carpet. Executives from studios such as Sony Pictures Entertainment and Universal Pictures showed up as well, while heads of top U.S. talent agencies promised to bring 30 global stars to Mr. Wang's new film festival every year.
While Hollywood money men know the potential of the Chinese film market, now the world's second-largest after the U.S., it wasn't lost on them that AMC also has 343 theaters and 4,950 screens in North America, predominantly in major metropolitan markets.
AMC's distribution power in the U.S. also helps Beijing's effort to export Chinese culture. The hit comedy 'Lost in Thailand' played in 30 AMC theaters in selected markets, and while it didn't draw big audiences, the airing of a Chinese movie in a Chinese-owned American theater was a point of pride for China.
Making a high-profile overseas deal boosts the standing of private Chinese companies in other ways, as well. China's college graduates traditionally see domestic private companies as less desirable employers than state-owned companies (which offer security) or multinationals (which offer international exposure). But private companies that have done deals report higher interest from job seekers. Fosun International, which controls or owns stakes in brands such as St. John, Folli Follie and Club Med, said it noticed a higher level of interest from university students after it bought the Chase Manhattan Tower in New York last year.
Chinese businessmen need to be careful, though. Recycling tycoon Chen Guangbiao's offer to buy the New York Times was dead on arrival and came off looking like just a stunt to showcase his patriotism. The eccentric magnate, who has never been in the media business, said his goal was to improve the Western coverage of China, and that he is ready to make offers for more media companies.
Losing lots of money on a deal, either by overpaying or bad execution, would be embarrassing. Still, the payoff can be huge for smart Chinese entrepreneurs who pull off high-profile deals. Look for more of them to take the risk.
中国富人通过投资美国电影院获得了让人意外的回报。王健林对AMC Entertainment Holdings的7亿美元初始投资升值了200%。王健林旗下的大连万达集团在青岛投资80亿美元建设了“东方影都影视产业园区”，该项目的启动仪式吸引了好莱坞和中国的诸多一线影星，如莱昂纳多•迪卡普里奥(Leonardo DiCaprio)、妮可•基德曼(Nicole Kidman)、凯瑟琳•泽塔-琼斯(Catherine Zeta-Jones)，以及章子怡、李连杰和成龙。
AMC在美国的发行能力也有助于中国的文化输出。近年来中国尝试了多种途径来向西方国家推广软实力，但除了在纽约时报广场播放广告外，并未取得明显进展。在被万达集团收购之后，AMC在某些市场放映了中国高票房电影《人再 途之泰 》。在上映的30多家影院中，这部电影并没有吸引大量观众，但在中国公司旗下的美国影院放映中国国产电影的做法，还是让一些中国人感到自豪的。
高调收购海外资产的交易也通过其他途径提升了中国私营企业的地位。在大学毕业生看来，私营企业在中国往往被视为二等公民。优秀的毕业生大多青口国有企业的稳定工作，或是在具备国际化环境的跨国企业工作。但求职者对完成海外并购交易的私营企业的兴趣日渐浓厚。复星国际有限公司注意到，在公司去年收购了纽约的第一大通曼哈顿广场后，前来求职的大学生增加。复星国际持有或掌控美国女装St. John、希腊首饰Folli Follie和法国度假机构Club Med等品牌的股份。