China semiconductors: Tsinghua Unigroup seeks white knight for massive bailout

By Che Pan

Debt-ridden Tsinghua Unigroup, the former high-flying technology conglomerate affiliated with China’s top university, is seeking a massive bailout from deep-pocketed investors amid bankruptcy proceedings that could force the company to divest its semiconductor assets.

Unigroup, saddled with more than 200 billion yuan (US$30.8 billion) in total liabilities, is looking for a white knight with the financial resources to help clear its debts and industry experience to continue its semiconductor and cloud computing businesses, according to the company’s statement on Tuesday on the website of the National Enterprise Bankruptcy Information Disclosure Platform.

The potential investor, or group of investors, must have 50 billion yuan in minimum total assets in the past year or possess 20 billion yuan in minimum net assets, according to the statement.

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“The strategic investors should have operational capability and managerial experience in semiconductor and cloud businesses,” the group said in the statement. “They must be able to promote the development of our core businesses.”

Visitors check out the semiconductor samples put on display by Tsinghua Unigroup at the China Beijing International High Tech Expo on September 19, 2020. Photo: AP

Two or more investors can form a consortium to take part in the bid for Unigroup and the application must be submitted by September 15, the statement said. Potential investors need to make an upfront deposit of 500 million yuan to Unigroup’s bank account.

In line with this process, trading of six of Unigroup’s onshore bonds will halt from Wednesday, the group said in a separate statement on Tuesday.

The solicitation comes days after state-owned Huishang Bank, a creditor of Unigroup, asked a Beijing court to start bankruptcy proceedings against the company.

A court-ordered bankruptcy restructuring could kick off a potential scramble for Unigroup’s assets by creditors and other interested parties.

It would also represent a big fall for Beijing-based Unigroup, which was once seen as a major player in the country’s efforts to boost semiconductor self-reliance amid the escalating US-China tech war.

Chip maker Tsinghua Unigroup a step closer to bankruptcy restructuring

Unisoc, the semiconductor design subsidiary of Unigroup and China’s fifth-largest smartphone chip supplier, is said to be seeking new investors to take over a 35.2 per cent stake from the parent firm, according to a report on Tuesday by Nikkei Asia, citing sources.

Unigroup, according to a Reuters report last week, is also trying to sell its 46.45 per cent stake in information technology (IT) infrastructure provider Unisplendour Corp to potential investors, including Alibaba Group Holding and several state-backed entities. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

Unigroup has declined to comment.

The company started operations in 1988 when it was founded by Tsinghua University in Beijing. It was initially known as Tsinghua University Sci-Tech General Company, but changed its name in 1993.

The company developed into a sprawling conglomerate through years of debt-fuelled expansion, with semiconductors, cloud and IT infrastructure as its major business segments.

Unigroup, with a total of 286 subsidiaries on its books at the end of June last year, started experiencing debt repayment pressure last summer. It had a total of 156.7 billion yuan in interest-carrying loans at that time, of which 52 per cent were short-term debts due within 12 months, according to the company’s 2020 first-half debt report.

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