Chinese banks try to calm fears about developer's debts

Finance | 24 Sep 2021 6:47 pm

Trying to dispel investor fears, some Chinese banks are disclosing what they are owed by a real estate developer that is struggling under US$310 billion in debt and say they can cope with a potential default.

The announcements came as Evergrande Group promised to talk with some individual investors in its debt. Other creditors waited to see whether Beijing will step in to oversee a restructuring to prevent financial disruption.

Evergrande's struggle to meet government-imposed debt limits has prompted fears a default might disrupt the Chinese economy or global financial markets. Ratings agencies say a default is likely. Economists say Beijing can prevent a credit crunch in China but wants to avoid bailing out Evergrande while it tries to force companies to reduce debt levels.

One of Evergrande's biggest lenders, Zheshang Bank Co., said it is owed 3.8 billion yuan ($588 million) and has ``sufficient collateral.''

``The overall risk is controllable,'' the bank said in a written answer to questions on a website run by the Shanghai Stock Exchange. It said a ``risk situation ... will not have a significant impact'' on the bank.

Others, including Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Ltd., gave no financial figures but said their lending was small, tied to individual projects and secured by claims to land. The Pudong bank said it was in ``close communication'' with Evergrande.

Changshu Rural Commercial Bank Co. in the eastern province of Jiangsu said it is owed 3.9 million yuan (US$600,000). The biggest state-owned commercial lenders including Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd. didn't respond to questions.

Evergrande was caught by stricter borrowing limits imposed on real estate last year by regulators who are trying to reduce surging debt levels the ruling Communist Party worries might drag on economic growth that already is in long-term decline.

Regulators have yet to say what Beijing might do, but economists say if the ruling party gets involved, it probably will focus on making sure families get apartments they already have paid for, rather than trying to bail out banks or other creditors.

Evergrande is one of China's biggest private sector conglomerates, with more than 200,000 employees, 1,300 projects in 280 cities and assets of 2.3 trillion yuan (US$350 billion). It owes creditors some 2 trillion yuan (US$310 billion).

Other major developers such as Vanke Co., state-owned Poly Group and Wanda Group have not reported similar problems. But hundreds of smaller developers have shut down since regulators in 2017 started tightening control over financing.

On Friday, investors in Evergrande debt who gathered at its headquarters in the southern city of Shenzhen said the company agreed to hold a phone meeting with them. Dozens of police officers with six vehicles stood guard outside the building.

There was no word on whether that meeting took place, but an investor from Shanghai said he talked separately with Evergrande employees and was told the company has little cash and no ``concrete solution.'' The man asked not to be identified by name to avoid attracting attention to himself and wouldn't say how much money he had at stake.

Evergrande said earlier it negotiated details of an interest payment due Thursday to banks and other bondholders in China but gave no details.

The company has yet to say whether it will make an US$83.5 million payment that was due Thursday on a bond abroad. It has 30 days before it is declared in default, but economists say the company appears to be focused on repaying creditors within China.

British bank HSBC Holdings PLC, reported earlier to be an investor in the bond, declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Evergrande is offering to repay some creditors by handing over apartments and other property.

The offer applies to investors who hold a total of about 40 billion yuan (US$6 billion) of debt issued by its Evergrande Wealth unit. News reports say they usually are retail customers, employees of Evergrande contractors and the company's own workforce. -- AP



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