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China Evergrande to Make Domestic Bond Payment, Easing Jitters

Evergrande’s main operating unit said it will make a $36m payment on Thursday on schedule and China’s central bank pumped funds into the banking system.

A man walks by unfinished residential blocks at Evergrande Oasis, a housing complex developed by Evergrande Group, in Luoyang, China, on Sept 15, 2021. Photo: CG Rawlins, Reuters.

 

China Evergrande Group’s main unit said on Wednesday it negotiated a deal with bondholders to settle interest payments on a domestic bond, helping to calm fears of an imminent default that threatened to unleash global financial chaos.

Hengda Real Estate Group said in a statement that it would make the coupon payment on its Shenzhen-traded 5.8% September 2025 bond on time on September 23, adding that the bond “has already been resolved through private negotiations.” It did not provide further details and it was unclear whether the negotiations suggested any improvement to Evergrande’s financial health or progress toward a restructuring.

Evergrande made no mention of an $83.5 million dollar bond interest payment also due on Thursday, or $47.5 million due next week. But Hengda’s announcement seemed to stabilise broader market jitters and S&P 500 futures rose. China’s central bank also injected a net 90 billion yuan ($14 billion) into the banking system, in a sign of support as the country’s financial markets reopened and steadied after a two-day break for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

“We are still trying to understand what this payment means for the other bonds but I imagine they would want to stabilise the market and make other coupon payments, given the close scrutiny,” said a source familiar with the situation, who declined to be identified as they are not authorised to speak to the media.

US stock futures, the yuan and the risk-sensitive Australian dollar rose, while safe-haven assets such as the yen and US Treasuries slipped.

Both bonds would default if Evergrande fails to settle the interest within 30 days of the scheduled payment dates.

Trade in Evergrande’s onshore exchange-traded bonds has been halted since September 16, when Hengda Real Estate applied to suspend trading for a day. While trading technically resumed a day later, it now only takes place through negotiated transactions in what traders said was an attempt to curb volatility.

Contagion Risk

The International Monetary Fund chief economist Gita Gopinath said on Tuesday she believes Beijing has the tools to prevent the Evergrande situation from turning into a systemic crisis.

While concerns about the spillover from a messy collapse roiled markets on Monday, US stocks were flat on Tuesday and Chinese shares fell in early trade after a two-day public holiday. But China’s property index recovered losses and was up more than 3%, while banking stocks were down about 3%.

Evergrande is so deeply intertwined with China’s broader economy – from retail investors to infrastructure-related firms that are a gauge for global commodities demand – that fears over contagion have kept financial markets on tenterhooks.

“There’s been a fair bit of concern about the possibility of contagion,” analysts at New York-based Bespoke wrote in a research note on Tuesday. “But so far that concern isn’t showing up in parts of the credit markets that have served well as red flags for broader credit crunches in the past.”

PBoC Helps Soothe Nerves

China’s central bank helped boost sentiment with an injection of short-term cash into the financial system. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) pumped 120 billion yuan ($18.6bn) into the banking system through reverse repurchase agreements, resulting in a net injection of 90 billion yuan ($13.9bn).

“The PBOC’s net injection is probably aimed at soothing nerves as the market worries about Evergrande,” said Eugene Leow, a senior rates strategist at DBS Bank Ltd in Singapore. “While the aim may be to instill discipline, there is also a need to prevent contagion into the real economy or to other sectors.”

The need to calm market jitters is pressing amid losses in China-related equities worldwide over recent days amid concern over Evergrande’s debt woes.

Evergrande missed interest payments due on Monday to at least two of its largest bank creditors, Bloomberg news agency reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter. The missed payments had been expected as China’s housing ministry had said that the company would be unable to pay on time, it said.

As investors and policymakers around the world tried to assess the potential fallout, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chair Gary Gensler said the US market is in a better position to absorb a potential global shock from a big company default than it was before the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Funds Buying Debt

Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell will likely be asked about the fallout from Evergrande when he speaks after the Federal Reserve’s two-day meeting that wraps up on Wednesday at 2 pm ET (1800 GMT).

Despite the looming default, some funds have been increasing their positions in recent months. Fund giant BlackRock and investment banks HSBC and UBS have been among the largest buyers of Evergrande’s debt, Morningstar data and a blog post showed.

Other bondholders include UBS Asset Management and Amundi, Europe’s largest asset manager.

In any default scenario, Evergrande, teetering between a messy meltdown, a managed collapse or the less likely prospect of a bailout by Beijing, will need to restructure the bonds, but analysts expect a low recovery ratio for investors.

S&P Global Ratings said on Monday it believed the Chinese government would only act in the event of a far-reaching contagion posing systemic risks to the economy.

‘Controlled Detonation’

“I would characterise Evergrande as a telegraphed and controlled detonation,” said Samy Muaddi, the portfolio manager of the $5.1bn T Rowe Price Emerging Markets Bond fund, who does not have a position in the company.

BNP Paribas estimated in a research note that less than $50bn of Evergrande’s $300bn outstanding debt is financed by bank loans, suggesting the Chinese banking sector will have a sufficient buffer to absorb potential bad debts.

Citigroup Inc subsidiaries serve as trustee and payment agent for a China Evergrande bond that matures in March 2022 and has $83.5m in interest coming due on Thursday.

“We do not have any direct lending exposure to Evergrande; our indirect exposure through counterparty credit risk is small and with no single significant concentration,” Citigroup spokeswoman Danielle Romero-Apsilos said in an email on Tuesday. She declined to comment on Evergrande’s scheduled payments.

Evergrande’s Hong Kong-listed shares fell as much as 7% on Tuesday, having tumbled 10 percent the previous day, on fears its $305bn in debt could trigger widespread losses in China’s financial system in the event of a collapse. The Hong Kong stock market was closed on Wednesday for a holiday.

 

• Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard

 

ALSO SEE:

China Evergrande’s Rising Default Risks Shift Focus to Possible Rescue

This story was updated with editing changes throughout.

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 and has a family in Bangkok.

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