Evergrande faces biggest payment test yet as grace periods end

The firm's dollar bonds remain at distressed levels as investors price in a high likelihood of an eventual restructuring. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - China Evergrande Group is facing its biggest payment test since signs of a liquidity crisis emerged at the firm five months ago.

Investors are waiting to see if the embattled developer makes coupon payments totalling US$148.1 million (S$199.7 million) for three US dollar bonds before the end of 30-day grace periods on Wednesday (Nov 10). Evergrande missed the initial interest deadlines last month, Bloomberg-compiled data show.

The due date looms as credit-market stress spreads beyond China's junk-rated builders. Higher-quality dollar bonds are suffering their worst sell-off in months, as investors grow increasingly concerned about the impact on larger property firms and the broader economy.

While there has been no indication that Evergrande will miss the payment, any such development could also trigger cross-default clauses among the builder's US$19.2 billion of outstanding dollar notes and give creditors more room to negotiate.

Evergrande did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The developer has so far pulled back from the brink of default by meeting other delayed coupons at the 11th hour before the grace period ended. Some holders of an Evergrande unit's bond did not receive payment for two coupons originally due Saturday, though both notes have a 30-day grace period. It also has two more dollar coupons due in December.

The firm's dollar bonds remain at distressed levels as investors price in a high likelihood of an eventual restructuring. The authorities in Beijing have urged founder Hui Ka Yan to help repay Evergrande's obligations with his personal wealth.

The fallout from the debt crisis had until recent days been largely contained to junk-rated developers. But better quality borrowers, such as those in the technology and banking sectors, are seeing the sharpest sell-off since April, when fears of a liquidity crunch at China Huarong Asset Management ignited doubts over the level of support Beijing would offer to indebted state-linked firms.

Rising stress has already sent yields on Chinese dollar junk bonds to above 23 per cent, effectively freezing many property firms out of the offshore market and leaving them unable to refinance their upcoming debt. New issuance from builders dwindled to the lowest level in 18 months in October.

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