Evergrande warns of looming cash crunch, spooking investors

Bloomberg September 25 | Updated on September 25, 2020 Published on September 25, 2020

The Evergrande International Hospital inside the Hainan Boao Lecheng International Medical Tourism Pilot Zone in Boao, China   -  Bloomberg

Developer may need to pay $19 billion to investors by January

The world’s most-indebted developer has warned Chinese officials it faces a potential default that could roil the nation’s $50-trillion financial system unless regulators approve the company’s long-delayed stock exchange listing. Shares and bonds fell in volatile trading.

China Evergrande Group mapped out the scenario in an August 24 letter to the Guangdong government seen by Bloomberg, in which the company sought support for a restructuring proposal needed to secure the listing and avert a cash crunch.

Some of Evergrande’s biggest strategic investors have the right to demand their money back if the company fails to win approval for a backdoor listing on the Shenzhen stock exchange by January 31. If investors refuse to extend the deadline, Evergrande will need to repay as much as 130 billion yuan ($19 billion), equivalent to 92 per cent of its cash and cash equivalents.

Backdoor listing plan

Read more about Evergrande’s backdoor listing plan proposed in 2017

That may lead to “cross defaults” in Evergrande’s borrowings from banks, trusts, funds and the bond market, eventually leading to systematic risks for the broader financial system, according to the letter sent to the provincial government of Guangdong, where the company is based.

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Calls to the media office of the Guangdong government on Thursday went unanswered.

Evergrande shares posted volatile swings in Hong Kong trading, as investors remain divided on whether it will be able to meet the listing deadline. It fell 4.3 per cent as of 11:47 a.m., reversing earlier gains. Evergrande’s domestic notes due in 2023 fell to a record low of 85.1 yuan, according to prices compiled by Bloomberg. Its seven-year bond halted trading in Shanghai.

Asset restructuring plans

Evergrande said in a statement that online social media posts about its asset restructuring plans are “made up” without specifying details.

“The relevant documents and pictures are fabricated and are pure defamation, causing serious damage to the company’s reputation,” Evergrande said in the statement. “The company strongly condemns such acts and has reported the case to the public security authorities. The company will take all legal actions to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the company.”

It added that the firm generated 400 billion yuan of cash inflows from project sales in the first eight months and maintains healthy operations. It didn’t address questions on whether it sought help from the government.

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S&P Global cut its outlook on Evergrande’s B+ credit rating to negative from stable on Thursday.

“We believe China Evergrande Group’s liquidity is weakening amid the continual increase in short-term debt obligations and potential repayment of a portion of its China domestic ‘A-share’ strategic investments in January 2021,” S&P said.

Still, the ratings company downplayed the risk of a liquidity crunch, noting that Evergrande is trying to convince strategic investors to stay put and is an “asset-rich” company with multiple fundraising channels. Evergrande’s sales will likely remain steady in 2020, S&P said.

Chinese policy makers have a long history of supporting systemically important companies to maintain financial stability. While the government has sought to instill more market discipline and reduce moral hazard in recent years, authorities bailed out several troubled regional lenders in 2019 and have helped engineer at least six bank mergers since May.

Property Bellwether

Evergrande is viewed by investors as a bellwether for China’s highly leveraged property sector. The company’s total debt edged up 4 per cent to 835 billion yuan at the end of June, compared with 800 billion yuan at the end of 2019. Net debt swelled to a record 631 billion yuan on a weaker cash buffer, Bloomberg calculations show.

Evergrande in August reiterated an aggressive deleveraging target — cutting borrowings by about 150 billion yuan each year from 2020 to 2022, or about half its current debt load. But so far it’s fallen short of the pledge.

The company has since launched a nationwide sales blitz to recoup cash, raised $3 billion by selling a stake in its service arm and reduced spending on land purchases. It expects total investment on electric vehicles to be 29 billion yuan, lower than 45 billion yuan planned earlier.

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Published on September 25, 2020
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