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China Evergrande bondholders in limbo over debt crisis

Reuters Singapore | Updated on September 24, 2021

Evergrande shares fell 3 per cent; dollar bonds with imminent payments due last traded around 30 cents on the dollar

China’s Evergrande slipped toward a kind of limbo on Friday as time ticked away on an interest payment deadline which global markets are watching for signs of default, leaving investors on tenterhooks over the embattled property giant’s fate.

The company owes $305 billion, has run short of cash, and markets are worried a collapse could pose systemic risks to China’s financial system and reverberate around the world.

China’s central bank again injected cash into the banking system on Friday, seen as a signal of support for markets. But authorities have been silent on Evergrande’s predicament and China’s State media has offered no clues on a rescue plan.

Evergrande appointed financial advisers and warned of default last week, and world markets fell heavily on Monday amid fears of contagion though they have since stabilised.

Small investors

At its offices, furious small investors have protested to try and retrieve life savings sunk into its properties and wealth-management products.

Evergrande has promised to prioritise such investors and resolved one coupon payment on a domestic bond this week, giving markets a glimmer of hope. But it has said nothing about an $83.5 million offshore interest payment that was due on Thursday and a $47.5 million payment due next week.

It enters a 30-day grace period if it fails to pay Thursday’s dues and would be in default if that window passed without settling the debt. Bondholders are starting to think it might be a month or so before things become clearer.

No announcements

As Friday trade got underway in Hong Kong, there had been no announcements about a payment. A company spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Also see: Asian stock markets nervy as Evergrande woes sap confidence

“Current market pricing estimates that investors in Evergrande’s dollar bonds are likely to recover very little,”said Jennifer James, a portfolio manager and lead emerging markets analyst at Janus Henderson Investors.

“The likeliest outcome is that the company will engage with creditors to come up with a restructuring agreement,” she said.

“How China handles Evergrande, and others, could be consequential. If mismanaged, then the loss of confidence could have contagion effects to other financial markets.”

Slow recovery

Global markets have begun recovery following a sharp selloff, trading on the basis that Evergrande’s troubles can be contained.

Only some $20 billion of Evergrande’s debts are owed offshore. Yet the risks at home are considerable because a collapse could crash the property sector which comprises a quarter of China’s economy and is an important store of wealth.

“Housing sales and investments could inevitably slow further; this would knock nearly 1 percentage point off GDP growth,” analysts at Societe Generale said in a note. “The longer policymakers wait before acting, the higher the hard-landing risk.”

Uncertain future

Yet there have so far been few signs of official intervention. The People’s Bank of China’s 270 billion yuan ($42 billion) cash injection this week is the largest weekly sum since January and has helped put a floor under stocks.

Bloomberg Law also reported that regulators had asked Evergrande to avoid a near-term default, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.

However the Wall Street Journal said, citing unnamed officials, that authorities had asked local governments to prepare for Evergrande’s downfall.

Also see: Evergrande chairman confident company will ‘walk out of its darkest moment’

“Given the deliberate pace of Chinese policy making, the authorities may well choose to play for time,” said Wei-Liang Chang, a macro strategist at DBS Bank in Singapore.

He said they could extend liquidity assistance through the grace period on Evergrande’s coupon payments, given it had no dollar bond maturities looming until March 2022.

Evergrande’s shares handed back some Thursday gains on Friday and fell 3 per cent, while stock of its electric vehicle unit dropped 18 per cent to a four-year low. Its dollar bonds with imminent payments due last traded around 30 cents on the dollar.

Published on September 24, 2021

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