By Clare Jim and Xie Yu
HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Country Garden $15 million coupon payment deadline has expired without word of payment, fuelling expectations that China’s biggest private property developer has defaulted on its offshore debt as the nation’s real estate woes deepen.
Non-payment would trigger cross defaults in other Country Garden bonds as is standard in bond contracts. The company has almost $11 billion of offshore bonds and a default would set the stage for one of China’s biggest corporate debt restructurings.
One bondholder of the tranche in question, who declined to be identified discussing confidential information, said he had not received payment on the coupon as a 30-day grace period ended. Another source familiar with the situation told Reuters the coupon payment had not been made by 1300 GMT.
Country Garden reiterated on Wednesday that it expects to be unable to meet all of its offshore debt obligations and hopes to seek a “holistic” solution to its difficulties.
Its statement did not directly address the question of whether there had been a default and representatives of the company declined to comment.
“If they don’t pay within the grace period, it will be a default,” said Cedric Rimaud, analyst at GimmeCredit, an independent corporate bond research house, referring to Country Garden’s missed payment.
Scores of other Chinese property developers have defaulted, reeling from liquidity problems since 2021 when the government introduced measures to tackle the sector’s very high debt levels.
The industry accounts for one-fourth of China’s economic activity and its prolonged woes have dragged on the world’s second-biggest economy, often rattling global financial markets.
Country Garden’s missed payment comes on the heels of an investigation into the chairman of beleaguered peer China Evergrande, which has also defaulted and has been at the centre of the sector’s debt crisis.
“A major difference between Country Garden and Evergrande is the former has been the ‘better child’ all along,” said Fern Wang, a senior analyst at KT Capital Group, who publishes on Smartkarma.
She added that Country Garden had been among the few major developers that had met all three of the debt ratio requirements introduced in 2021 while Evergrade failed all three.
DEBT RESTRUCTURING EXPECTED
Sluggish demand for homes and weakening property prices amid a broader economic downturn has meant, however, that some once relatively healthy developers like Country Garden are now struggling.
The firm’s shares have lost some 70% of their value this year although they gained some ground on Wednesday, rising 2.7%.
Its dollar bonds are currently worth about 6 cents compared with 70 cents at the start of the year, according to LSEG data, and bondholders say they expect the debt to be restructured.
“We are ready to walk away with some losses, but just hope the restructuring process could be efficient and less painful when compared to other companies like Evergrande,” said a U.S. asset manager who holds Country Garden’s dollar bonds and declined to be identified.
CreditSights analyst Nicholas Chen said any debt restructuring would likely involve a long wait for Country Garden creditors, noting that peer Sunac’s recently approved restructuring took at least 1.5 years.
Country Garden is, however, in better shape with its onshore debt, having gained some breathing room with three-year payment extensions for eight bonds worth 10.8 billion yuan ($1.5 billion).
The sector’s woes continue to ensnare other developers. Gemdale has since Tuesday seen its bonds slide after the resignation of its chairman sparked fears that it too may be in financial trouble.
Gemdale has said the resignation was due to health reasons and would not have a big impact on its operations.
China has rolled out a flurry of support measures in recent months to revive the property market but positive results have yet to be seen.
Data on Wednesday showed property investment in China slid 9.1% for the first nine months of the year. Sales by floor area dropped 7.5%.
Nationwide prices of new homes for September will be released on Thursday. August data showed a 0.3% drop month on month, the fastest pace in 10 months.
China’s bleak property market outlook is likely to worsen the terms that offshore creditors may have to accept as debt is restructured.
Developers accounting for 40% of Chinese home sales have defaulted on their debt obligations since 2021, according to JPMorgan. Those companies, mostly private, have issued around $110 billion worth of high-yield offshore bonds.
($1=7.3110 Chinese yuan)
(Reporting by Clare Jim and Xie Yu in Hong Kong; additional reporting by Karin Strohecker; Writing by Scott Murdoch; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree, Edwina Gibbs, Elaine Hardcastle)