China’s Evergrande vows to maintain operations, market stability after rare rebuke

Evergrande has been selling assets including stakes in units to fend off a cash crunch. PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (BLOOMBERG) - China Evergrande Group on Friday (Aug 20) pledged to fix its debt problems following a rare public rebuke from regulators as the developer struggles to stave off a liquidity crisis.

Evergrande said it will do its best to maintain stable operations, resolve debt risks, and keep stability in housing and financial markets. The People's Bank of China and the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission earlier told the group to address its debt woes and refrain from spreading "untrue" information.

The regulators issued the joint statement late Thursday after meeting with the developer's executives. Evergrande will disclose material events in accordance with laws and regulations and clarify untrue information in a timely way, the company said in a statement.

The rebuke is the clearest sign yet that Chinese authorities are losing patience with Evergrande, which poses a potential systemic risk to the world's second-largest economy. With more than US$300 billion (S$409 billion) of liabilities, the conglomerate's fate has broad implications for China's US$50 trillion financial system and the nation's banks, trusts and millions of homeowners.

"This is a strong warning to the company," said Chuanyi Zhou, a credit analyst at Lucror Analytics. "We expect an acceleration in asset sales, introducing strategic investors and advancing negotiations with suppliers."

Analyst views were mixed on what the regulatory statement signaled about Beijing's willingness to provide financial support to Evergrande via state-owned banks and investors. While some see the developer as too big to fail, market hopes for a government bailout have been fading in recent weeks.

Shares of Evergrande fell 1.8 per cent at 11.24am in Hong Kong on Friday after earlier climbing as much as 6.4 per cent. Its 8.75 per cent US dollar bond due 2025 rose 0.9 cent on the dollar to 37.4 US cents. A 6.98 per cent local bond due 2023 climbed 6.1 per cent to 67.9 yuan and is on pace to erase this week's decline.

Evergrande also said its board will hold a meeting on Aug 31 to approve first-half results ended June 30.

This isn't the first time regulators have urged the developer to fix its debt problems. At a meeting in Beijing in June, officials at the Financial Stability and Development Committee asked billionaire founder Hui Ka Yan to consider bringing in strategic investors to stabilise the property giant, emphasizing the need to avoid major shocks to the economy, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Chinese government has so far kept quiet about whether it will provide financial support for Evergrande, leaving investors to guess at its odds of becoming the next casualty of President Xi Jinping's campaign to rein in moral hazard and tighten the state's grip on key sectors of the economy.

Shares of Evergrande have lost two thirds of their value this year amid mounting concerns over the financial health of the world's most indebted developer. The sell-off deepened earlier this week after Mr Hui stepped down as chairman of the conglomerate's main onshore real estate unit. A capital injection for China Huarong Asset Management announced on Wednesday did little to alleviate investor concern.

The developer announced at the end of June that it had cut interest-bearing debt by about 20 per cent in the first half to US$88 billion. That enabled it to meet one of China's "three red lines," a trio of metrics that policy makers have used to encourage the property industry to deleverage.

Evergrande has been selling assets including stakes in units. Its China Evergrande New Energy Vehicle Group unit held preliminary talks with Xiaomi Corp to introduce strategic shareholders, but the companies didn't go forward with further communications, Evergrande said in response to a media report on the discussions.

"The developer may rush to find buyers for its stake in a new energy vehicle unit" after the talks with Xiaomi ended, Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Patrick Wong and Lisa Zhou wrote in a note. Its 65 per cent stake is worth HK$63.5 billion (S$11.1 billion), based on Thursday's closing price. Shares of Evergrande New Energy fell as much as 4.6 per cent on Friday morning.

Still, Evergrande's debt-reduction efforts have failed to convince investors, partly due to concerns that the company is simply shifting obligations to other parts of its balance sheet.

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