By Keerthana P, Edited by Niyanta Desai
Chinese real estate mogul Evergrande is on the brink of financial collapse. The company is racing to meet deadlines on bond interest payments totaling tens of millions of dollars and has resorted to repaying some of its investors in the wealth management sector with the property.
How did it come to this?
Brief background about the company
Formerly known as the Hengda Group, Evergrande was founded by Chinese businessman Xu Jiayin (also known by his Cantonese name Hui Ka Yan) in 1996. Xu is Evergrande’s chairman as well as its largest shareholder. Born in the village of Jutiagang, he spent his early years working across the iron and steel industry before migrating to jobs in the trading sector. Before founding the Evergrande Group, Xu established the Guangzhou Pengda Industrial Co., Ltd. in 1994.
He is reported to have amassed $42.5 billion in personal wealth over the years, with Evergrande alone earning him hundreds of billions of yuan in revenue (Statista, 2020). Xu was once China’s richest man. However, 73% of his fortune has now dissipated, with the rest soon to follow as investors, suppliers and customers frenziedly demand the corporation repay their money.
Wide range of businesses
In addition to being the second-largest property developer in China with real estate projects across 22 cities, the Evergrande Group also dabbles in industries of sports, tourism and recreation, finance, health, entertainment, automotive and more. Evergrande is so deeply ingrained in the Chinese economy, that economists speculate Beijing will actually step in to bail them out of the mountain of debt they are currently in. Being a Fortune 500 company, it is also one of the highest revenue-generating conglomerates globally.
The Liquidity Crisis
Evergrande is currently under a staggering pile of debt, with about $305 billion in liabilities (Forbes, 2021). Why did this happen?
In 2020, Beijing introduced policies placing a ceiling on the amount of land owned by real estate developers. This was done to cool down the property market following concerns that it was “overheating”. These new rules led to Evergrande offering major discounts on properties in order to keep the business afloat.
Over the past few years, the company sought to aggressively expand its ventures as the Chinese economy witnessed a boom and in that process, accumulated tremendous debt. According to Mattie Bekink of the Economist Intelligence Unit, “[the group] strayed far from its original business, which is part of how it got into this mess.” (CNN Business, 2021)
The demand for residential property in China has been on a steady decline for years and will continue to do so; which is the real root of Evergrande’s problems.
Impact on the economy
In the midst of the anxiety caused by the liquidity crisis, Evergrande’s shares have suffered a massive blow: their prices have fallen by 85%. The company’s business partners, including material suppliers, construction firms, design firms, architectural firms, etc are at risk of incurring losses so big that they could be pushed into bankruptcy.
Frustrated home buyers and investors have taken to the streets in some cities, with protesters turning up outside Evergrande’s headquarters in Shenzhen on 13th September to demand repayment of overdue loans.
The collapse of a property developer as big as Evergrande could trigger a banking failure across the country, according to Mark Williams of Capital Economics (CNBC, 2021).
The financial fallout will have far-reaching consequences, spreading across markets in America and Europe where companies have interactions with Evergrande via corporate bonds. Economists suspect it might lead to a credit crunch, a situation wherein financial organizations are less willing to lend money, leading to protracted economic growth and stagnation of businesses. The company’s offshore investors continue to remain in the dark regarding the repayment of loans.
Governments in Zhuhai and Nanshan District, Shenzhen took control of sales revenue for Evergrande's properties on 22nd September 2021 in a state-controlled custodial account to protect/offer reparations to the conglomerate's customers and restart work on projects that were underway.
On October 15th, 2021, a spokesperson from the People’s Bank of China took to the press in a rare public statement, wherein they stated that the fallout from Evergrande’s liquidity crisis was controllable and urged a swift sale of Evergrande’s assets, thus finally breaking the central bank’s hitherto silence on the issue.
This ongoing crisis has been popularly labeled by Chinese media as "a huge black hole," implying that no amount of money can resolve Evergrande's financial troubles. In light of the crisis at hand, experts, as well as authorities, believe the best way to move forward would be a restructuring of the firm, wherein “…other developers take over Evergrande’s uncompleted projects in exchange for a share of its land bank.” (Mark Williams to CNBC, 2021).
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2. Yahoo Finance. (n.d.). EVERGRANDE (3333. HK) Income Statement. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/3333.HK/financials?p=3333.HK
3. BBC News. (2021, September 29). China: What is Evergrande and is it too big to fail?https://www.bbc.com/news/business-58579833
4. Hale, T. (2021, January 26). Beijing turns the screws on China’s property sector. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/4c866dc3-e3c4-41f8-99a8-d256e7923bd1
5. Stevenson, A., & Li, C. (2021, October 11). Evergrande Went From China’s Biggest Developer to One of Its Worst Debtors. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/10/business/economy/china-evergrande-debt-property.html
6. Galbraith, A. (2021, October 15). Evergrande debt woes are manageable, China central bank official says. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-central-bank-says-evergrande-debt-woes-are-manageable-2021-10-15/