Embattled conglomerate Evergrande rattled global markets in September by warning it could default on its huge debts. Since then, more developers have made similar public confessions, unnerving investors and raising fears of contagion across the vast sector.
It’s unclear how the crisis will be resolved. The companies could try to restructure their debts and work things out with their lenders. They could also seek bailouts from the Chinese government.
Earlier this month, the People’s Bank of China said that Evergrande had mismanaged its business, but risks to the financial system were “controllable.” And at financial forum in Beijing last week, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He stressed that risks were generally under control, despite what he called “individual problems” in the property market.
The final — and worst — option would be a disorderly series of defaults, which would send shock waves across China’s economy, and perhaps beyond.
Five developers have already run into trouble as China’s once red-hot real estate industry cools rapidly.
The crisis started last month with Evergrande’s warning, which sparked fears about which banks and investors across the world might be exposed to its debt mountain.
With total liabilities of some $300 billion, including $20 billion in international bonds, Evergrande is China’s most indebted real estate company. At the end of September, Evergrande raised $1.5 billion in cash by selling part of its stake in a Chinese bank.
This month, the company has demonstrated some attempts to get back on solid footing.
Last week, the company made a $83.5 million interest payment on a dollar-denominated bond that allows it to stay out of default, at least for now, according to Chinese state media.
The property giant has also resumed work on more than 10 housing projects in southern Guangdong province, which will be delivered to homebuyers “one after another.”
The firm’s Chairman Xu Jiayin has even talked about taking Evergrande in a new direction. Last week, Xu said that the company wants to make electric vehicles its main business within a decade. That would be a challenge, since the subsidiary responsible for that part of the business has yet to deliver a single car.
Evergrande is also not done with its debt woes.
Its efforts to sell off some of its businesses for cash haven’t been going well — just last week, Evergrande said it had called off an agreement to sell a controlling stake in its property management unit to a rival Chinese developer, Hopson, for some $2.6 billion.
It also has a key deadline coming up this week: A 30-day grace period for a $47.5 million interest payment on another offshore bond expires on Friday.
Evergrande’s stock is down some 80% this year, and its market value has collapsed to just 39 billion Hong Kong dollars ($5 billion).
Luxury apartment developer Fantasia Holdings is teetering on the brink. The Shenzhen-based company failed to pay $315 million owed to lenders earlier this month, comprising a $206 million bond repayment and a 700 million yuan ($109 million) loan from the property management unit of Country Garden, China’s second largest developer.
Fantasia said that it would probably “default on [its] external debts,” according to Country Garden.
Ratings agencies S&P and Moody’s slapped “default” credit ratings on Fantasia and said the non-payment of principal would likely also put the company in default on its remaining bonds.
Shares in the company, which has a market value of 3.2 billion Hong Kong dollars ($420 million), are down nearly 60% this year.
China Properties Group
China Properties Group said this month that its development subsidiary, Cheergain Group, had defaulted on $226 million worth of payments.
The parent company says that it “is not able to fund the outstanding amount due until it has completed the sale or refinancing of” certain assets.
Shares of the developer, which are listed in Hong Kong, have been suspended from trading since April, “and will remain suspended until further notice,” according to a stock exchange filing.
Beijing-based developer Modern Land has become the latest real estate company to miss debt payments.
In a stock exchange filing Tuesday, Modern Land said it has failed to pay either the the principal or interest on a $250 million bond that was due on October 25.
The company said it failed to meet the deadline due to “unexpected liquidity issues arising from the adverse impact of a number of factors including the macroeconomic environment, the real estate industry environment and the Covid-19 pandemic faced by the group.”
Modern Land is now working with its legal counsel Sidley Austin and expects to engage independent financial advisers soon, the filing added.
Modern Land’s stock has fallen nearly 50% this year, cutting its market value to 1.2 billion Hong Kong dollars ($160 million).
“Although the amount is small, relatively, ongoing concerns about the property sector in China appear to be weighing on sentiment in Asia,” wrote Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst for Asia Pacific, in a research note Tuesday.
Homebuilder Sinic Holdings also joined the ranks of struggling developers, saying this month that it would likely default on some of its bond payments worth $250 million.
The principal and interest on those bonds were due October 18. As of last week, the company had not publicly disclosed the latest status of the payments. It did not respond to a request for comment at that time.
This month, ratings agency Fitch downgraded Sinic’s rating to “C”, just one notch above “restrictive default,” which describes a company that has failed to pay but has not yet begun a formal process of bankruptcy or liquidation.
Sinic’s stock has suffered the most of the four developers this year, down nearly 90%. The company’s market value now stands at about 1.8 billion Hong Kong dollars ($230 million). Shares have been suspended from trading for the past month.
— Jill Disis, Laura He and Michelle Toh contributed to this report.