China property

Vanke holds its ground, reiterates management’s preference for Shenzhen Metro as its white knight

A “railway plus property” strategy can help Vanke tap projects with high traffic flow for growth, management says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 9:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 4:05pm

China Vanke Co., mired in a shareholders’ tussle for control, on Monday reiterated its preference for Shenzhen’s subway operator to become its owner, saying that Shenzhen Metro’s land bank around its subway network can help grow its business.

“We still believe if Shenzhen Metro becomes a major shareholder of Vanke, it can bring lots of benefits to the company’s growth,’ Vanke’s executive vice president Wang Wenjin told reporters in Hong Kong.

Vanke’s net profit missed analysts’ expectations in the first six months, rising 10.4 per cent to 5.35 billion yuan (HK$6.27 billion), as gross margin shrank by 3.49 percentage points to 17.55 per cent, according to its earnings statement on Sunday.

Vanke’s founder and chairman Wang Shi and president Yu Liang both skipped the company’s Monday earnings press conference in Hong Kong, instead leaving it to other executives to face the media.

China’s largest developer has been embroiled in an eight-month takeover tussle for control, when conglomerate Baoneng Group emerged from nowhere to become Vanke’s largest shareholder with a 25 per cent stake. To deter Baoneng, Vanke’s chairman Wang and his senior management team sought out Shenzhen Metro, the state-owned city subway operator, as the white knight.

According to a plan proposed in June, Vanke planned to issue 45.6 billion yuan of shares for two of Shenzhen Metro’s projects with a combined 1.8 million square metres of gross floor area. The plan would have given Shenzhen Metro a 20.7 per cent controlling stake in Vanke, and would have diluted Baoneng’s stake to 19.9 per cent.

Opposition came from state-run China Resources, another major shareholder. The proposal has remained stuck since.

In the latest twist, China Evergrande Group, the country’s second-largest developer, said last week it had bought nearly 7 per cent of Vanke from the open market, putting it in the position to use its clout to determine the outcome Vanke’s ownership.

For now, Evergrande is keeping mum about its exact plans.

“We have been asking them about their intention in buying our shares but they have never replied,” said Wang the executive vice president.

Vanke’s president Yu, who rarely missed the company’s press events, was “busy with dealing with the shareholders’ disputes,” Vanke’s board secretary Zhu Xu said Monday.

A “railway plus property” combination is probably the best way out for Vanke to help it secure land sites where there’s already high traffic flow that can be tapped to patronise retail outlets and shopping malls, executive vice president Wang said.

“Although consensus on the restructuring plan has not been reached, we will continue to actively communicate with relevant shareholders to reach agreement,” he said.

Some analysts are skeptical that strategy would work.

“Whether the cooperation works depends on how many projects Shenzhen Metro can secure in the future, not just in Shenzhen, but throughout the country,” said Mizuho Securities’ property analyst Alan Jin.

There are also concerns whether major shareholders agree with the valuation of the two land plots Vanke plans to buy from Shenzhen Metro, Jin said.

While the intrigue continues over Vanke’s control, the developer said the uncertainties are distracting it from the business of building and selling real estate.

As many as 31 of Vanke’s projects have been affected, and the developer has faced suspensions or even terminations because of uncertainties over the company’s future,” said Zhang Xu, executive vice president.

Some senior staff are heading for the exit, executives said.

“We all feel stressed as the case is becoming more complicated,” Wang said.

Vanke shares in Shenzhen rose 0.45 per cent to 24.70 yuan on Monday, its Hong Kong shares climbed 1.73 per cent to HK$20.60.