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Ping An Shares Fall on Claim China Sought Country Garden Buyout

China’s State Council ordered Guangdong officials to get the insurance giant to ‘rescue’ the nation’s biggest private developer, sources say, but the company denies wanting to take it over

Chinese officials are allegedly urging insurance giant Ping An to take control of Country Garden, the biggest private developer (Reuters image).


Shares of Ping An fell on Wednesday afternoon after a report that Beijing has asked the giant insurance group to take a controlling stake in Country Garden.

Shares sank by 5.4% in Hong Kong after the report, which said four sources claim that China’s State Council instructed officials in Guangdong province, where the two companies are based, to help arrange Ping An to ‘rescue’ the nation’s biggest private developer.

The embattled developer has huge debts, reportedly close to $190 billion. However, a spokesperson for Ping An said the company had not been approached by the government and denied the report by Reuters.

Ping An has “not been asked by (the) government to takeover Country Garden. We categorically deny this story. It is untrue,” the company said in a statement.


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The insurer, which vies with China Life for the title of the country’s biggest insurance group by market value, declined to make its founder and chairman, Ma Mingzhe, available for an interview. Ma, who also uses the English first name Peter, did not respond to an email request for comment.

China’s State Council, which is headed by PM Li Qiang, and the Guangdong local government did not respond to requests for comment. Country Garden declined to comment.


Fears of liquidity crisis spilling into broader economy

A state-engineered rescue of Country Garden by Ping An would be one of the most significant interventions to date by authorities to support the highly indebted property sector, which accounts for a quarter of China’s economic activity and has sparked fears of a broader financial crisis.

Authorities are keen that any risks posed by Country Garden’s liquidity problems should not spill over to the wider economy, three of the sources said.

While in China companies can rarely ignore a request from the central government, the three sources said Ping An has been asked to come up with details of the plan and will have leeway to negotiate terms of any deal.

Talks between authorities and core Ping An leaders began in late August and are still at an early stage, two of them said.

Ping An has been asked to conduct due diligence on Country Garden, two sources also said, adding that authorities understood the insurer was a listed company answerable to shareholders.

A fifth person with knowledge of the matter said some talks between Ping An and the Guangdong local government about a rescue of Country Garden took place in September.

All sources declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.


‘Central bank involved in talks’

Discussions between Ping An and authorities are being led by officials in the financial markets department of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), which is the central bank, and include Country Garden, two sources said.

The National Financial Regulatory Administration (NFRA) is also involved in the talks, they added. Neither the PBOC nor the NFRA responded to Reuters requests for comment.

Authorities want Ping An to take a stake of more than 50%, according to one person with direct knowledge and one person briefed on the plan.

Yang Huiyan, right, became chairman of the board of Country Garden in February after her father, Yang Guoqiang, left, stepped down because of his age. He set up the company in 1992 (Caixin image).

Country Garden’s largest shareholder with a stake of about 52% is Yang Huiyan, chairperson and daughter of a co-founder. Reuters was not able to reach Yang for comment.

If Ping An were to become Country Garden’s controlling shareholder, authorities would like it to inject capital in stages to ease the developer’s liquidity problems, according to four sources.

The property developer last month missed a deadline to pay a $15 million coupon and the market has deemed it to be in default on its offshore bonds, which total some $11 billion.

Country Garden has said it expects to be unable to meet all of its offshore debt obligations and hopes to seek a “holistic” solution to its difficulties.

Chinese authorities are eager to make the proposed takeover a possible template for other financially troubled developers, two of the sources also said.


Insurer may have sold 4.99% stake

Authorities are keen for the Country Garden’s liquidity problems to be resolved within Guangdong, three sources said. Ping An was a natural choice because it is based in Guangdong and has been a major Country Garden shareholder, according to two of the sources.

The insurer had a 4.99% stake in Country Garden as of August 11, according to Hong Kong stock exchange data. But other news outlets say Ping An has sold its shareholding and their sources deny any plan to take over the Country Garden.

A state-engineered takeover of one company by another is not without precedent in China. But there has not been one in the property sector since Beijing announced measures in 2020, known as the ‘three red lines,’ to tackle the industry’s massive debt levels, triggering a liquidity crunch.

Although many other Chinese property developers, including giant China Evergrande, have defaulted on their debt, policy steps have mostly concentrated on lowering mortgage rates and relaxing rules so that it is easier for people to buy homes.

But in a sign that governmental authorities are willing to play a bigger role, China Vanke’s top shareholder, state-owned Shenzhen Metro said on Monday that it had prepared 10 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) worth of “market tools” to support the country’s no-2 developer.

Country Garden had total liabilities of 1.4 trillion yuan ($190 billion) at the end of June. It has more than 3,000 projects under development and over 70,000 employees.

Ping An has been tapped by authorities as a rescuer for an ailing company before.

It participated in state-guided aid for Peking University Founder Group in 2021 and 2022. Its main unit, Ping An Life, was part of a consortium that was involved in restructuring the group’s debt and then the unit took 67% ownership of the reorganised company.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard


NOTE: This report was amended on November 8, 2023 to update the size of Ping An’s share fall and other details, including the headline.




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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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