HONG KONG – For months, as a struggling real estate company called China Evergrande scared global markets with its financial woes, Beijing sat on the sidelines.
The government is now playing a more active role.
Evergrande, the world’s most indebted real estate developer, said officials from several state-backed institutions had joined a risk committee that would help the company restructure. The committee, headed by Evergrande founder Xu Jiayin, “will play an important role in mitigating and eliminating future risks,” the company said in a document filed Monday evening.
The formation of a committee with an apparent government imprimatur reassured investors who had worried about the potential impact, in China and beyond, of a chaotic collapse of Evergrande. His huge real estate empire includes millions of apartments in hundreds of Chinese cities, but Evergrande also has over $ 300 billion in bonds he has to pay off – and maybe even more on the books.
“It looks like the government will somehow intervene to avert a massive crisis,” said George Yu, an economist at Renmin University in Beijing. “But all of society should learn a lesson from this incident.”
Evergrande appeared to have missed payments to some of its bondholders from an affiliate, Scenery Journey, which were due on Monday. But its shares rose in Hong Kong on Tuesday as investors reacted to news of official support for the company and broader measures to support a struggling real estate sector. Investors were also applauded by the Chinese government’s easing of credit restrictions on Monday amid signs of a wider economic slowdown.
Like other conglomerates before him who have borrowed until they can no longer pay their bills, Evergrande will now be advised, in part, by officials in Guangdong, the province where the company started selling apartments in a nascent Chinese middle class in the late 1990s.
Evergrande said last week that he may no longer be able to meet his financial obligations. The disclosure was made against a backdrop of deteriorating real estate market and difficult operating conditions for developers. At least 11 developers have defaulted on their bond payments this year.
Investors feared Evergrande was next. The grace period for payments on two of its bonds, totaling more than $ 82 million, expired on Monday. If bondholders were not cured, it would mark the start of a formal default, which the company narrowly managed to avoid for several months. Some bondholders had yet to receive payment on the bonds on Tuesday, a person familiar with the matter said.
Evergrande did not respond to a request for comment.
Another struggling real estate giant, the Kaisa Group, faced a potential default on Tuesday. Bondholders sent him a proposal that would give him more time, according to Bloomberg. Kaisa did not respond to requests for comment.
The authorities are trying to curb the reckless borrowing of giant companies by pledging not to intervene to save companies that can no longer pay their bills. Officials last year focused on real estate developers, among some of China Inc.’s biggest borrowers.
The central bank began by restricting bank lending to real estate companies and making access to new liquidity contingent on the ability of companies to start repaying debts. With the drying up of their traditional funding channels and pressure from the authorities to reduce their debt levels, many developers found themselves in a difficult situation. The slowdown in the real estate market has made matters worse and strained the entire sector.
In recent weeks, mortgage defaults in the housing market have triggered panic in the bond market, pushing the cost of borrowing to record highs. Many developers have struggled to maintain their operations, complete work on the apartments they sold, and pay their employees and contractors. China Central Television, the public broadcaster, reported on Monday that Kaisa had not paid some of its employees for months and was struggling to complete a luxury project in Guangzhou that was due for delivery last year.
Evergrande’s plea for help last week sparked a wave of comments from Chinese regulators assuring the market that its financial woes would not spill over into the wider economy. The Communist Party’s Politburo also weighed in to say the government would help support the housing market.
Understanding the new Chinese economy
An economic overhaul. China is adopting new measures to change how its business works and limit the power of rulers. Driven by a desire for state control and autonomy, these changes mark the end of a golden age for private companies that have made the country a manufacturing power and a hub of innovation.
Evergrande’s new risk committee will include senior officials from China Cinda Asset Management, Guangdong Holdings, Guangzhou Yuexiu Holding and Guosen Securities, entities owned or supported by the state. Evergrande said on Friday he planned to “actively engage” with his foreign creditors.
A question now is whether investors in Evergrande’s U.S. dollar bonds will be willing to consider reaching a swift deal to roll over the company’s roughly $ 20 billion in outstanding bonds before the restructuring begins. or whether they will choose to wait until the rest of the business is over $ 300 billion in debt is settled.
Chinese officials have made it clear that social stability is crucial, saying they may prioritize homebuyers, suppliers and contractors who are still awaiting payment from Evergrande. And the company is at the mercy of some 1.6 million unfinished apartments that buyers have already paid for.
But officials advising the developer may also be concerned about how foreign investors are being treated in the restructuring process, said Han Shen Lin, an assistant practice professor of finance at New York University in Shanghai. Developers have become heavily dependent on access to international markets for funding. Over the next few months, they will have to make payments totaling $ 17 billion, according to one estimate.
“Although tackling social issues is a priority,” Lin said, “the way offshore US dollar debt investors are treated will be an important signal of the future pricing of Chinese risk.”
Keith bradsher contributed to Beijing reporting.