China Evergrande Group (3333.HK) faces its next test in public markets with the deadline for a bond coupon payment to offshore investors on Wednesday, as the cash-strapped property developer scrambles to sell some of its assets.
With liabilities of $305 billion, Evergrande has sparked concerns its problems could spread through China’s financial system and reverberate around the world – a worry that has eased as damage has so far been concentrated in the property sector.
Evergrande plans to sell a 9.99 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) stake it owns in Shengjing Bank Co Ltd (2066.HK) to a state-owned asset management company, the developer said on Wednesday in an exchange filing.
Shengjing Bank, one of the main lenders to Evergrande, had demanded that all net proceeds from the disposal be applied to settle the financial liabilities of the developer due to the lender, it said.
The move underscores how Evergrande, once China’s top-selling developer and now expected to be one of the largest-ever restructurings in the country, is prioritising domestic creditors over offshore bondholders.
The company missed a payment deadline on a dollar bond last week, a day after its main property business in China said it had privately negotiated with onshore bondholders to settle a separate coupon payment on a yuan-denominated bond.
The company is due on Wednesday to make a $47.5 million bond interest payment on its 9.5% March 2024 dollar bond.
Evergrande’s silence on its offshore payment obligations has left global investors wondering if they will have to swallow large losses when a 30-day grace period ends for the last week and Wednesday’s coupon payment deadlines.
A spokesperson for Evergrande did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.
“We are in the wait and see phase at the moment. The creditors are organising themselves and people are trying to figure out how this falling knife might be caught,” said an advisor hired by one of the offshore Evergrande bondholders.
“They failed to pay last week, I think they will probably fail to pay this one. That doesn’t mean necessarily they’re not going to pay … they’ve got the 30-day grace period,” said the advisor declining to be named due to sensitivity of the issue.
Once the face of China’s frenzied building boom, Evergrande has now become the face of a crackdown on developers’ debts that has spurred volatility in global markets and left large and small investors sweating their exposure.
Evergrande’s troubles slammed global stock markets earlier this month.
In the weeks since, some global investors have shifted their focus to political wrangling in Washington over the U.S. debt ceiling and a rise in Treasury yields that has pressured stocks.
Any negative surprise by Evergrande could give stock market bears more ammunition.
Beijing is prodding government-owned firms and state-backed property developers such as China Vanke Co Ltd (000002.SZ) to purchase some of Evergrande’s assets, people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Authorities are hoping that asset purchases will ward off or at least mitigate any social unrest that could occur if Evergrande were to suffer a messy collapse, they said, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
On Monday, China’s central bank vowed to protect consumers exposed to the housing market, without mentioning Evergrande in a statement posted to its website, and injected more cash into the banking system.
Those moves have boosted investor sentiment towards Chinese property stocks in the last couple of days, with Evergrande stock rising as much as 15% on Wednesday.