Real Estate

Country Garden Liquidation Petition Clouds Huge Debt Revamp

 

Property stocks fell in Hong Kong on Wednesday after companies in the building sector received mixed news.

The positive news was an announcement by the Hong Kong government that it had abolished the stamp duty on the purchase of second homes and purchases by non-permanent buyers.

But the potentially more serious revelation was a regulatory filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange by Country Garden, which said it had received a petition to liquidate the group for non-payment of a $205 million loan.

 

ALSO SEE: Tougher Penalties in China for Firms Understating Emissions

 

Country Garden – the nation’s biggest developer, which is now in default – said it would “resolutely” oppose the petition filed by a creditor, Ever Credit Ltd, that is a unit of Hong Kong-listed Kingboard Holdings.

A court hearing has been set for May 17. Kingboard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Country Garden shares fell by more than 11% after the filing, amid concern the case will cloud its debt revamp prospects. The case could also undermine Beijing’s efforts to restore confidence in the property sector.

The Hang Seng Index was down 1.5% in late afternoon trading, with its properties index falling by 0.5%.

The petition is set to revive homebuyer and creditor concerns about the Chinese property sector’s debt crisis at a time when Beijing is trying to boost confidence in the industry that accounts for a quarter of China’s GDP.

 

Liquidation of biggest builder could worsen crisis

A liquidation of Country Garden would exacerbate the real estate crisis, put more strain on its onshore lenders, and could delay the prospect of a recovery of not only the property market, but the overall Chinese economy.

The petition comes a month after China Evergrande Group, the world’s most indebted developer, with more than $300 billion in liabilities, was ordered to be liquidated by a Hong Kong court.

Evergrande now faces a complicated restructuring process that some investors think could last more than a decade.

China’s property sector, a pillar of the world’s second-largest economy, has lurched from one crisis to another over the past three years after a regulatory crackdown on debt-fuelled construction triggered a liquidity squeeze.

A string of developers have defaulted on their repayment obligations since then, and many of them have either launched or are in the process of starting debt restructuring processes to avoid facing bankruptcy or liquidation proceedings.

China’s new home prices slowed their month-on-month declines in January with the biggest cities seeing some stabilisation, but the nationwide downward trend persisted despite Beijing’s efforts to revive demand.

 

Disposing of offshore assets

Country Garden’s debt restructuring process, which gathered momentum in recent weeks with its $11 billion offshore debt deemed to be in default, could be clouded by the liquidation petition if it makes other creditors think twice about settling.

Country Garden has appointed KPMG and law firm Sidley Austin as advisers to examine its capital structure and liquidity position and formulate what it called a “holistic” solution.

The company in last October missed a $15 million bond coupon repayment, and so-called ad-hoc bondholder groups were formed consisting of international creditors. It is not immediately known if Country Garden has started talks with the creditors.

The developer had total liabilities of 1.36 trillion yuan ($188.9 billion) as at the end of June 2023, close to its 1.43 trillion yuan of total assets.

“Country Garden has taken way too long, messing around with switching advisors and wasting time, so it’s no surprise people lose their patience and would rather liquidate them,” a Country Garden dollar bond investor said. The investor could not be named as they were not permitted to speak to media.

Country Garden said in its filing that it would continue to “proactively communicate and work with its offshore creditors on its restructuring plan” as it aimed to announce terms to the market as soon as practicable.

“The radical actions of a single creditor will not have a significant impact on our company’s guaranteed delivery of buildings, normal operations and the overall restructuring of overseas debts,” it said in statement.

Investment holding firm Kingboard in October became one of the first known companies to take legal action against Country Garden when its unit Ever Credit, which is owed HK$1.6 billion ($204.5 million), issued a statutory demand seeking repayment.

Earlier this year, Country Garden’s top management warned that the property market would remain weak in 2024 and the company could face more “severe” challenges.

Country Garden has also stepped up disposing of its assets offshore recently to raise funds, selling its stake in its last Australian project last month and putting a residential development in East London up for sale.

 

  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard

 

ALSO SEE:

 

Will Evergrande Really be Liquidated? Not if China Says No

 

Country Garden Warns of ‘Severe’ Tests in China Property Market

 

Country Garden to Gain $428m From Wanda Unit Stake Sale

 

Country Garden Seen Defaulting on Its Offshore Debt

 

Beijing Seen Taking Over China Evergrande’s Debt Revamp

 

China Evergrande Chairman ‘Suspected of Crimes’, Company Says

 

The Pledge That Brought Country Garden to the Brink of Default

 

 

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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