China's Third Bond Default Imminent: Coke Supplier To Miss Payment

A little over a month ago, China witnessed its first default by a state-owned enterprise when Baoding Tianwei Group, a subsidiary of state-run China South Industries Group, defaulted on a $14 million coupon payment. That event raised two important issues. First, it suggested that Beijing will not necessarily step in to rescue state-affiliated companies who find themselves in financial trouble and second, it underscored the degree to which China’s $14 trillion corporate debt pile presents a very real risk especially considering the rapidly increasing number of non-performing loans on the books of the country’s banking sector.

Today, we get still more evidence that China may be headed for a debt disaster as a third company has now defaulted on its onshore bonds. 

This time it’s soft drink bottle maker Zhuhai Zhongfu Enterprise Co which, as Bloomberg reports, will come up nearly 450 million yuan short when a principal payment for paper issued in 2012 comes due on Thursday. Here’s more:

Zhuhai Zhongfu Enterprise Co., which supplies bottles for Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. in China, can only repay 148 million yuan ($23.9 million) of the 590 million yuan principal, according to a statement to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange Monday. It plans to pay all the 31.152 million yuan of interest. The manufacturer, which isn’t state-owned, sold the 5.28 percent securities in 2012…

 

Han Huiming, board secretary at Zhuhai Zhongfu, said when reached by phone Tuesday that the company will try to raise funds for the bond payment until the last moment.

 

The manufacturer, which is based in the southern city of Zhuhai and employees about 4,000 people, said in a May 21 statement that a bank consortium rejected its application for 500 million yuan of loans in May. 

 

The Zhuhai branches of China Everbright Bank Co. and Bank of China Ltd. have limited its freedom to spend the 61 million yuan of capital on its accounts, it said.

 

Because Zhuhai Zhongfu is having a “liquidity crisis,” the company can’t collect enough money for the payment through its own business operations, according to the statement Monday.

 

Zhuhai Zhongfu’s orders have declined significantly since 2012 as its biggest clients increased their own production of bottles, according to a report from China International Capital Corp. on May 11. The company’s business with its three largest clients Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Uni-President China Holdings Ltd. generated only 33 percent of revenue last year, down from 49 percent in 2011, according to CICC. Coca-Cola remains the manufacturer’s biggest customer, according to board secretary Han.

 

The shift comes as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are increasingly focusing on cost-cutting to help support operating margins amid waning soft-drink demand, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

All of the above notwithstanding, the company’s Shenzhen-listed shares had risen more than 120% YTD before they were halted last month with equity ‘investors’ completely ignoring the fundamental story as they have with virtually everything else that changes hands on the exchange which is now trading at a mind-bending 71 times earnings after at least 250 individual names traded limit-up on Tuesday.

Indeed, you didn’t even have to look at an income statement to know how risky of a bet this was because the debt was yielding near 20% before it was delisted last year.

The company’s notes yielded 19.33 percent in the secondary market on June 27 last year before being delisted from the exchange, according to exchange data.

Still, investors remain confident that Beijing, despite rhetoric to the contrary, will be loath to allow onshore defaults as $17 billion in principal payments come due in 2015, a figure that is set to rise exponentially over the next six years. Here's Bloomberg again:

The People’s Bank of China may coordinate loan support for Baoding Tianwei Group Co. after it became the first state-owned entity to default on a coupon payment in April, OCBC said, citing local media. Restaurant-turned-Internet firm Cloud Live Technology was the first onshore issuer to miss a principal payment in April and has raised funds from “unclear” sources to partly repay noteholders, OCBC said.

 

Zhuhai Zhongfu, based in the southern city of Zhuhai, is still short 442 million yuan for a bond payment due Thursday, the company said in a statement to the Shenzhen stock exchange Monday. It will try to raise more money by May 26, it said.

 

Narrowing spreads on onshore bonds suggest investors are still counting on state guarantees, said OCBC, which compared Baoding’s situation with bailouts last year for Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology Co. and a trust product known as China Credit Equals Gold No. 1. The difference between AAA and BBB+ rated yields has fallen to 933 basis points from 942 at the start of the year, while the gap between AAA and AA notes shrank to 114 from 129, according to the report.

 

Chinese companies must repay an equivalent $16.9 billion of maturing onshore notes in 2015, Koh estimated in the report. That increases every year and will peak at $192.3 billion in 2021. Some 65 percent of institutions expect at least one more onshore default this quarter, according to a Bloomberg survey of 20 banks, brokerages and money managers published on May 18.

Clearly, this is a rather large problem, but as we outlined in "How China's Banks Hide Trillions In Credit Risk," the government will often force banks to roll over maturing debt in order to paper over (literally) what is almost certainly a deteriorating situation and in fact, the PBoC recently did a complete 180 on regulations around local government financing via LGFVs in an effort to jumpstart the shadow banking credit creation machine, a move which Fitch calls "an explicit form of regulatory forbearance." 

Whatever the case, it's becoming increasingly clear that the combination of slumping economic growth and $28 trillion in debt has the potential to trigger a wave of defaults from both state-run and private borrowers, a state of affairs which will test Beijing's resolve when it comes to projecting stability in the country's credit markets.