Evergrande's default may not have been a one-time "Lehman" event, but the painful, creeping consequences of China's property market getting hit - the single biggest asset class in the world...
... will resonate for years in a slow, painful repricing - absent a major kick from the PBOC - and sure enough, Chinese property stocks tumbled close to a new five-year low - levels last seen in 2014 - after a series of asset sales underscored concern that equity investors will bear the brunt of losses as developers offload projects to repay debt (assuming defaults don't wipe out the equity tranche completely).
As Bloomberg reports overnight, Shimao Group Holdings agreed to sell stakes in a Hong Kong development at a loss while distressed property giant, Sunac China Holdings, unloaded assets in Shanghai as developers rush to raise cash. China regulators meanwhile signaled they will support “quality” real estate firms looking to buy assets from struggling rivals, according to a report.
An index of Chinese developers fell for the sixth day in seven, led by Sunac, which posted a record one-day decline of 18%. Trading in Chinese dollar bonds remained light during the seasonal end-of-year lull.
The plunge in developer shares means the richest bosses behind China’s real estate firms have lost more than $46 billion combined this year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Evergrande founder Hui Ka Yan’s wealth alone has plunged by $17.2 billion.
It's not looking good for a quick and painless rebound in the billionaire's net worth - here are some of the more notable recent developments, all of which paint a grim picture for China's developers:
- Evergrande Declared in Default by S&P for Failed Payments
Evergrande was labeled a defaulter by S&P Global Ratings, the second credit-risk assessor to do so after Fitch. S&P cut Evergrande to “selective default” Friday over its failure to make coupon payments by the end of a grace period earlier this month, a move that may trigger cross defaults on the developer’s $19.2 billion of dollar debt. S&P also withdrew its ratings on the group at Evergrande’s request.
Fitch Ratings was the first to declare the property developer in default on Dec. 9. Long considered by many investors as too big to fail, Evergrande has become the largest casualty of President Xi Jinping’s campaign to tame the country’s overindebted conglomerates and overheated property market. Concern has since spread to higher-rated firms like Shimao Group as liquidity stress intensifies.
- Evergrande Land Seized by Chengdu City on Lack of Development:
The local government in western China’s Chengdu city took two parcels back without repaying the developers, saying that Evergrande failed to start construction on time, according to Dec. 17 statements from a Chengdu land regulator (one could call this a partial nationalization of the now defaulted developer): one site, sized 83,997 square meters, was sold to a firm fully owned by by Evergrande’s onshore subsidiary Hengda Real Estate in 2010, according to a statement and corporate registry search platform Qichacha. Another site, sized 258,667 square meters, was sold to a developer in 2002 and transferred to another Hengda unit in 2011, according to a separate statement and Qichacha.
- China Offshore Bond Defaults Hit Record in December
December is poised to be a record month for Chinese offshore corporate defaults after missed payments by indebted companies including China Evergrande and Kaisa Group Holdings Chinese firms have defaulted on a record $3.8 billion in offshore bonds so far this month, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The previous monthly high was in January when Chinese borrowers failed to repay $2.7 billion of such notes.
- China Regulators Encourage Property Acquisitions
China is ramping up support of the embattled real estate sector as growing stress in the industry threatens to deepen an economic slowdown (something we first discussed last month in "Beijing Capitulates: Urges Local Govts To Unleash Debt Flood As Cities Begin Backstopping Property Developers"). Authorities are encouraging banks to fund acquisitions of projects of distressed developers and pushing financially healthy property firms to make such purchases, the central bank-backed Financial News reported Monday.
China is also providing credit support to an economy showing strain from the property slump, with domestic banks on Monday lowering borrowing costs for the first time in 20 months. The move follows action by the People’s Bank of China earlier this month to cut the amount of cash banks must hold in reserve, freeing up 1.2 trillion yuan ($188 billion) of cheap long-term funds for lenders.
As Bloomberg notes, the support measures come as some developers such as Kaisa and Evergrande struggle to sell assets to raise cash and service mounting debts amid a crackdown on leverage in the industry. Meanwhile, after a relentless deleveraging property developer campaign which started a year ago with the three red lines, regulators have finally eased up on the clampdown in recent weeks, such as by encouraging stronger real estate firms to tap the onshore interbank bond market for financing.
- Kaisa Appoints Advisers; Shares Resume Trading
Kaisa has appointed Houlihan Lokey as its financial adviser and Sidley Austin as legal adviser after missing multiple offshore debt payments. The retention of the bankruptcy-focused financial adviser will evaluate Kaisa’s liquidity and explore all feasible solutions, the company said in a stock exchange filing on Monday. Kaisa said it hasn’t received any notice regarding acceleration of repayment by holders, and has been in talks with holder representatives about a comprehensive debt restructuring plan. That said, the hiring of HLHZ is a clear indication that a default is coming; Kaisa shares tumbled.
- Evergrande Backer’s Privatization Collapses
Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd. minority shareholders failed to give sufficient support to the company’s proposed privatization, derailing a plan by the long-time ally of Evergrande to delist next month. The stock plunged 30%. Among the 74 stockholders participating, 64 voted no and made up 10.8% of the shares among the investors, according to a stock exchange filing Friday. The Hong Kong real estate firm, owned by the family of billionaire Joseph Lau, announced plans in October to buy out investors at HK$4 a share. The stock last traded at HK$3.78 before being halted Friday afternoon ahead of the results. Chinese Estates requested a trading resumption and said its listing will be maintained.
- Shimao Sells Stake in Hong Kong Development Z
Shimao agreed to sell its 22.5% stake in three entities created for the Grand Victoria property development in Hong Kong for HK$2.1 billion ($270 million), according to an exchange filing. The buyers include entities owned by fellow developers SEA Holdings, Wheelock & Co. and Sino Land. Shimao expects to recognize a loss of about HK$770 million from the sale. Separately, Sunac China Holdings Ltd. sold three projects in Shanghai and Hangzhou for 2.68 billion yuan ($420 million), the 21st Century Business Herald reported, citing unidentified people.
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Will all these adverse developments in mind, it is not only quite easy to understand why China cut its RRR last week, followed by a 5bps cut to its Libor, the Loan Prime Rate, but as Bloomberg notes, much more easing will be needed to revive China's market.
As a reminder, over the weekend Morgan Stanley predicted that China's credit impulse is due for a sharp rebound as a result of already implemented policy easing.
But the question is whether this isn't too little too late - as Bloomberg's Ye Xie puts it, markets have largely shrugged off the first cut in benchmark borrowing costs in 20 months in China. That in part reflects the fact that policy easing so far has been more measured. Even as the policy mix is becoming more market friendly, the bottom line is that the country needs credit growth to pick up more meaningfully. Here are some more observations from Xie:
- The combination of elevated inflation and renewed growth concerns from the spread of the omicron variant of Covid has complicated the job of policy makers around the world. While the Fed and other major central banks have shifted focus to taming inflation, markets are more nervous about the economic outlook. For instance, the market implied rate for the Fed’s benchmark in 2023 has declined since the FOMC meeting last week to about 1.25%, compared with the median forecast of 1.625% on the dot- plot.
- In contrast, Beijing, with less inflation pressure, is moving toward policy easing. Chinese banks cut the one-year LPR rate by 5 bps Monday, surprising most economists who had expected them to stay put. But market reactions were largely muted. Ten-year bond yields were little changed, while the CSI 300 declined 1.5%. What gives?
- For starters, while few economists had predicted the move, investors have been anticipating some policy easing since the central economic working conference earlier this month, when Beijing signaled that propping up the economy has become its top priority. The RRR cut in early December, plus a similar move in July, saved enough costs for banks to pass them on to borrowers. So the LPR cut did not exactly come out of the blue.
- The lenders held the five-year rate, which is tied to mortgage rates, steady. It signaled that Beijing may not intend to change overall control over the housing market, despite some recent policy fine-tuning. What’s more, the seven-day repo, a measure of interbank liquidity, has been stable. All of this suggests that the PBOC isn’t in a full-blown easing mode, yet.
- Historically, the stock, bond and currency markets’ performance has been mixed in the month following an LPR cut. As noted by Larry Hu, an economist at Macquarie Securities, cutting the rate is less important in China’s context, “where the monetary policy is more based on quantity than price.” In other words, the supply of money is more important than the price of money.
So as the world waits to see if the Fed will either taper its taper, or hint at far fewer rates hikes (if any) now that Biden's BBB plan isn't coming, and with it $1.75 trillion in fiscal stimulus is gone, China is already stepping on the monetary stimulus engine. It won't be alone, and we are confident that it is only a matter of time before Powell folds again. As for rampant inflation, it will take just one small change in the definition of CPI - one which is already on its way - to fix all that.