January 31, 2018 / 3:00 AM / 22 days ago

China's Leshi flags $1.8 billion annual loss, cites LeEco cash crunch

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese video-streaming firm Leshi Internet flagged a net loss of 11.6 billion yuan ($1.83 billion) for 2017, its first annual loss as a listed firm, citing a cash crunch at its founder Jia Yueting’s embattled technology conglomerate LeEco.

Leshi Internet Information & Technology announced the estimated loss - which is more than five times its combined profits since listing on the Shenzhen stock exchange in 2010 - in a statement late on Tuesday.

The loss included 4.4 billion yuan of bad debt reserve for account receivables from LeEco units and 3.5 billion yuan of asset devaluation provision, it said.

The magnitude of the loss shows the aftermath of the debt-fueled expansion of LeEco, a Netflix-to-Tesla-like group that has struggled to meet its obligations since Jia admitted to a cash crunch in late 2016. It also adds pressure on Jia, who has defied Chinese regulators’ orders to return from the United States, where he has been based since the summer.

Jia resigned as chairman and CEO from Leshi after property developer Sunac China made a $2 billion investment last year in Leshi to become its second-largest shareholder. But he remains Leshi’s largest shareholder with a 25.67 percent stake, though most of that has been pledged to financial institutions.

Leshi, which makes internet-connected TVs and produces video entertainment, was deeply intertwined with LeEco units for related transactions but is increasingly trying to distance itself from the conglomerate.

With loans and financial liabilities of around $1.5 billion, Leshi said last week it is seeking equity stakes in the car businesses of Jia, including Faraday Future, for debts owed by him and LeEco units totaling 7.5 billion yuan. LeEco has disputed that figure.

LeEco did not immediately respond to an emailed request for a comment.

Leshi is due to report 2017 results on April 24.

Its shares plunged by the daily limit of 10 percent on Wednesday, the sixth consecutive day they have tumbled the maximum allowed since resuming trading a week ago following a nine-month suspension.

Shares of Sunac China dropped as much as 5.4 percent in Hong Kong on Wednesday morning before recouping the loss by noon.

Reporting by Sijia Jiang; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

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