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Workers repair a sign at a Cineworld cinema in Bradford, England, on March 24, 2016.

Phil Noble/Reuters

Cineworld’s biggest shareholder sold part of its stake to refinance existing loans, the company said on Monday, after the cinema operator’s stock tumbled on concerns about the potential impact of the coronavirus on box office attendance.

Cineworld said Global City Theatres - a proxy for CEO Moshe Greidinger and his brother deputy CEO Israel - sold the 7.9 per cent stake sale for 116 million pounds ($152 million) for GCT’s own reasons, unrelated to the company’s business.

It was sold at a small discount to Friday’s closing share price to buyers including Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC.

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The proceeds would be used to restructure GCT’s debt into a loan facility with no connection to Cineworld’s share price and the deal removed the threat that GCT would have to sell some or all of the shares on the market, it said.

But investors worry that Cineworld is on increasingly thin ice, saddled with $3.48 billion in debt as it begins to pay for its takeover of Canadian chain Cineplex, and faces the possibility of fewer movie-goers from the delay of the new James Bond film as the coronavirus spreads.

Shares in the company lost a fifth of their value after news of the deal on Monday, before paring losses to trade flat by 1030 GMT. They have sunk around 50 per cent this year amid a surge in bets by stock market short sellers against it.

Analysts at brokerage Jefferies estimated the company was burning around $115 million monthly and had $470 million in readily available cash, and could deal with four months of the unlikely scenario of all cinemas being closed completely.

But they also noted that the company did not comment on its debt structure or last year’s $1.65 billion acquisition of Cineplex, in an unscheduled trading statement on Friday.

“Cineworld’s recent brief update has done little to address investor concerns about short-term trading prospects and balance sheet flexibility,” they said in a note to clients.

Cineworld operates 9,494 screens globally, 7,211 of them in the United States, its largest market which generates three-fourth of its revenue.

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A GIC affiliate bought 62 million of the 108 million shares sold in the deal, representing around 4.5 per cent of Cineworld’s share capital.

After the sale GCT will still hold 275 million shares, or a 20 per cent stake. It sold its stake for around 107.4 pence per share, a discount to Friday’s closing price, according to Reuters calculations.

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