China Evergrande, the second-largest real estate developer in China, has been narrowly dodging default for months. The Company has more than US $300 billion in debt that, as it warned the market back in September, it believed would be difficult for it to service. (As an aside, it is believed that China Evergrande could have an additional US $150 billion in debt, off its official financial books).
Put simply, the cash flow of the Company, severely dampened by the cooling Chinese housing market, is not enough for it to service interest payments to those from which it borrowed funds, typically in the form of interest-bearing corporate bonds.
One such unlucky purchaser of China Evergrande corporate bonds, among others, are off-shore investors. Off-shore bondholders will likely be the least prioritised of the Company’s investors when receiving interest payments or reparations.
Perhaps fortuitously, it was the failure by China Evergrande to make interest payments to this very group of investors that prompted Fitch Ratings to upgrade the Company’s status to “restricted default” on December 9. Interestingly, China Evergrande is the twelfth Chinese real estate firm to default on bonds in 2021, and by far the largest to do so.
Other rating agencies, such as Moody’s and S&P Global, have not been so quick to upgrade their status of China Evergrande. However, S&P Global has noted that China Evergrande’s default is “inevitable”.
China Evergrande themselves seem to be ignoring public comment on its failure to meet its obligation, nor has it ceased operations or begun any formal paperwork to address its potential bankruptcy.
China Evergrande is currently under restructuring while attempting to continue operations as usual. The restructuring includes renegotiating its liabilities and offloading non-construction arms of the Company at bargain prices such as its property management business, as well as stakes in a major Chinese bank and (strangely enough) a streaming services.
Pressure is being applied to the Company’s leaders to speed up its restructuring since the change in its Fitch rating. According to Bloomberg, the China Evergrande restructure is being heavily monitored, if not outright controlled by Chinese Authorities in Beijing and the Company’s home province of Guangdong.
Right now, the official line from the Central Bank of China is that the China Evergrande crisis is being handled as per the “principles of marketization and rule of law,”. If more rating agencies follow Fitch Rating in the coming weeks, China Evergrande could slip into something a little more serious than restricted default and the above quote may become a little truer, with Chinese authorities being hamstrung in their ability to interfere with a meltdown.