24 October 2016
Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, directed by Hong Kong's Stephen Chow Sing-chi,  grossed a total of US$215 million worldwide, breaking the record for highest-grossing Chinese-language film.
Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, directed by Hong Kong's Stephen Chow Sing-chi, grossed a total of US$215 million worldwide, breaking the record for highest-grossing Chinese-language film.

10 Chinese stocks to own – 5: Huayi Bros

Two savvy new deals this week are casting a spotlight on fast-rising movie industry star Huayi Brothers Media Corp. (300027.CH).

The company is emerging as China’s most promising independent film-maker and could someday attain Hollywood-level status.

Huayi is the lone company in my “favorite Chinese stock” series from China’s Nasdaq-style ChiNext board, which is typically quite volatile and often looks more like a casino than a serious stock exchange.

Volatility in its share price aside, Huayi has shown an ability to consistently make movies and other entertainment products that get a strong audience reception, laying the foundation for strong future growth.

The company has become a regular fixture in the headlines, including the two new production deals this week that both look quite promising.

One of those has Huayi partnering with leading Chinese internet company Tencent Holdings Ltd. (00700.HK) in an effort to bring films from South Korea and the United States to mainland China, and possibly also sell into those markets as part of its fledgling moves abroad.

The other has Huayi forming a new animation joint venture led by a major US industry veteran, again looking to tap markets at home and abroad.

Huayi is a household name in the Chinese film industry, and its hit movies include the 2012 film Painted Skin: The Resurrection and the 2013 film Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, which both earned well over US$100 million at the mainland box office.

Lately, the company has joined a fledgling movement by Chinese companies looking abroad, many to Hollywood, in a wide range of production deals aimed at tapping China’s booming market for movies and other video products.

The latest deals are a bit different, but both are also quite focused on promising growth areas and reflect Huayi’s ability to attract major partners to its endeavors.

In the first, Huayi and Tencent are buying China Jiuhao Health (00419.HK), with plans to transform the shell company into a financing vehicle for acquiring films from South Korea and Hollywood.

The partners said Jiuhao will be renamed Huayi Tencent Entertainment Co. Ltd., and will become a vehicle for acquisitions outside China.

Huayi will hold 18.2 percent of the company, and Tencent will hold 15.7 percent.

A unit of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA.US), which has its own big film production aspirations, will also be a small stakeholder.

The actual deal is quite small, involving the subscription of HK$527 million (US$68 million) in new shares by the buyers.

But it reflects Huayi’s careful and focused approach to expansion, in which it typically enters very specific alliances targeted at particular areas.

Animation studio

In Huayi’s other major news this week, it announced the formation of a new animation studio to be based in Shanghai, which is already home to another major animation joint venture, between US giant DreamWorks Animation (DWA.US) and local heavyweight Shanghai Media Group (SMG).

While the new venture is in China, it will be headed by Hollywood veteran Joe Aguilar, who has more than 20 years of experience at names like DreamWorks and Twenty-First Century Fox (FOX.US).

In fact, Aguilar is coming to the Huayi venture from Oriental DreamWorks, the DreamWorks-SMG joint venture.

The new Huayi studio will make films for China, with its first productions set to hit the market as soon as next year.

These latest deals come just a half year after Huayi announced a tie-up with Ping An Bank in a massive partnership reportedly worth 30 billion yuan (US$4.7 billion), presumably to make films for the Chinese and global markets.

The ability to attract that kind of funds from such A-list investors testifies to Huayi’s attractiveness to investors both large and small as a savvy bet on China’s booming film market.

From an investment standpoint, Huayi’s current valuation looks slightly rich at a price-earnings ratio of about 37, which is about double the level for US giant The Walt Disney Co. (DIS.US).

But let’s not forget that Huayi is traded on ChiNext, where stocks regularly rise and fall by double-digit percentages in very short periods based on heavy short-term speculation.

Huayi’s stock was actually much higher at the start of this year and has lost nearly half of its value since mid-December in a broader sell-off on China’s domestic stock markets.

But at a more fundamental level, its revenue and profits are posting very healthy growth.

Revenue is rising at an annual rate of about 100 percent, and profits at about 50 percent.

From a short-term perspective, I would caution investors about buying any Chinese stock, and especially ones on the highly volatile ChiNext.

But from a longer-term perspective, Huayi certainly looks like a shrewd play on the future of China’s rising role as a major producer of movies and video for not only its booming home market but also for overseas markets eventually.

Bottom line: Huayi has the potential to become one of China’s leading makers of Hollywood-style films and videos, with a strong track record that has helped attract major partners for a growing string of well-conceived production deals.

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A commentator on China company news and associate professor in the journalism department of Fudan University in Shanghai. Follow him on his blog at

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