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China's Evergrande - The Real Estate Debt Bubble Appears to Finally Be Bursting


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Chinese property prices 20x in 20 years. Surely the biggest bubble in history.

The financial disaster alert is on! A catastrophic bank meltdown seems to be looming in China: The country's entire financial sector is getting extremely alarmed with the possibility of a major default crisis, given that one of its biggest property developers, Evergrande, recently announced that it became unable to pay its gigantic debt. That debacle has exposed the perilous state of China’s vast property sector and its consequences could have a ripple effect across global markets and lead to billions in losses. Last week, Evergrande, the world’s most indebted property developer, warned that it would likely fail to meet its financial obligations, triggering widespread panic among investors, dealing a severe blow to its bonds, and resulting in trading suspensions in the markets of Shenzhen and Shanghai.The crisis led two credit rating agencies to downgrade Evergrande last week, and it sparked a shocking 80% collapse on its Hong Kong-listed shares since the beginning of the year. And at the beginning of this week, the Shanghai Stock Exchange stopped trading in Evergrande's May 2023 bond after it dropped more than 30%. Right now, the Chinese developer is sitting under a colossal pile of liabilities that total more than $300 billion, after decades of borrowing to finance its rapid growth. Over the past few weeks, Evergrande has been rushing to sell assets to generate cash but several companies are refusing to accept the firm's commercial paper. According to S&P analysts, the developer might be paying suppliers through transfers of its properties instead of cash. In essence, the company has become exposed to a vicious debt cycle, and it doesn't have enough cash to finish its projects and generate further proceeds from sales. Only in August, sales declined by a staggering 26 percent compared to the same time last year despite the steep discounts. And, of course, the developer is in desperate need of that cash not only to service but also to reduce, its enormous debts. Beyond financial markets, the most significant problems that could be triggered by the Evergrande downfall are a residential and commercial real estate collapse all across China, as well as a brutal crisis on the broader property sector. Other worries include the growing possibility of a bank meltdown, as at least 128 banks are highly exposed to Evergrande's liabilities, according to a 2020 leaked document. On top of that, 121 non-banking institutions are also exposed, and all of them are at risk of facing billions in losses. Analysts have been comparing the imminent bank meltdown in China to the 2008 collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, which sparked crises at counterparties and ended up collapsing global markets. Bloomberg reported that Chinese authorities warned major lenders to China Evergrande Group "not to expect interest payments due next week on bank loans, which takes the cash-strapped developer a step closer the nation’s largest modern-day restructurings," and signals that China's "Lehman Moment" is right around the corner. Authorities have been silent on whether they will allow Evergrande creditors to face major losses. Bondholders are speculating that a buyout, break-up, or bailout are the only possible scenarios, which has infuriated countless investors and creditors. The company's intricate web of obligations to bondholders, investors, banks, suppliers, and homeowners has essentially turned into one of the biggest sources of financial risk in the world’s second-largest economy. It is now threatening to trigger a crisis that goes beyond a residential and commercial real estate collapse -- or even a widespread bank meltdown -- but it could result in a financial catastrophe that would impact the entire world. Analysts argue that now that investors started to sell off their holdings of the company, the broader credit market may be dragged further down if the property developer fails to buy time with banks to pay off its debt. The consequences are also threatening to spill over the Chinese economy. Considering that real estate is the central engine of China's growth, which accounts for 29% of economic output, a residential and commercial real estate collapse in addition to the bankruptcy of such a large company would have severe repercussions on the economy. Investors are growing increasingly nervous that the Evergrande collapse could spread to other property developers and result in dangerous systemic risks for the country's banking system. As the financial expert Mark Twain noted, companies go bankrupt in two ways. "Gradually, then suddenly." Until last week, Evergrande was in the "gradually" phase. Now, it just got to the "suddenly" phase. From now on, the collapse is likely to accelerate and generate a cascade of systemic failures, bankruptcies and push China to the verge of a default crisis never before seen in world history.

 

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Hard to say how this will play out....

1990. The Economist. China's economy has come to a halt.

1996. The Economist. China's economy will face a hard landing

1998. The Economist: China's economy entering a dangerous period of sluggish growth.

1999. Bank of Canada: Likelihood of a hard landing for the Chinese economy.

2000. Chicago Tribune: China currency move nails hard landing risk coffin.

2001. Wilbanks, Smith & Thomas: A hard landing in China.

2002. Westchester University: China Anxiously Seeks a Soft Economic Landing

2003. KWR International: How to find a soft landing if China..

2004. The Economist: The great fall of China?

2005. Nouriel Roubini: The Risk of a Hard Landing in China

2006. International Economy: Can China Achieve a Soft Landing?

2007. TIME: Is China's Economy Overheating? Can China avoid a hard landing?

2008. Forbes: Hard Landing In China?

2009. Fortune: China's hard landing. China must find a way to recover.

2010: Nouriel Roubini: Hard landing coming in China.

2011: Business Insider: A Chinese Hard Landing May Be Closer Than You Think

2012: American Interest: Dismal Economic News from China: A Hard Landing

2013: Zero Hedge: A Hard Landing In China 2014. CNBC: A hard landing in China.

2015. Forbes: Congratulations, You Got Yourself A Chinese Hard Landing ….

2016. The Economist: Hard landing looms for China

2017. National Interest: Is China's Economy Going To Crash?

2020. Economics Explained: The Scary Solution to the Chinese Debt Crisis

2021. DW News: What's behind the collapse of Chinese property development giant Evergrande?

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China’s crashing housing and commercial real estate markets are making the headlines once again as the country’s biggest property developer has been hit by a liquidity crunch and is now at risk of collapsing. Since last year, the slow collapse of the nation’s second-biggest developer, Evergrande, is keeping investors worldwide on edge as they fear the company’s bankruptcy is going to have a knock-on impact on China’s entire real estate sector and send the world into a financial crisis. And now that Country Garden Holdings – the largest investment-grade developer in the country – is in major trouble with international bondholders, it seems that we’re one step closer to a global financial meltdown. The company was one of the few remaining large, better-quality private developers that had been unscathed by the liquidity crunch, even while other big groups, such as Shimao, faced dramatic reversals in their credit ratings. In December, Shimao’s implosion was viewed as “more devastating than debt crisis at Evergrande and Kaisa”. And now it seems like Country Garden is the final and most visible property giant for contagion risk, as extraordinary levels of stress in the offshore bond market threaten to drag credit ratings down. Just as Evergrande and every other developer peer that relied on debt to fuel growth, Country Garden needs access to funding in the offshore credit market to pay for its projects. But given that the Chinese government has recently shut that door, the company is now coping with a debt load to the tune of US$11.7 billion, representing its total outstanding US dollar bonds, as Bloomberg reported. According to Bloomberg, the main risk plaguing the developer right now is its limited access to funding. “Any sign of doubt in the firm's capacity to weather liquidity stress risks may prompt a widespread repricing of other higher-quality developers,” analysts wrote. In other words, if the company doesn’t prove that it’s capable to obtain financial support to finish its projects, it may end up downgrading the credit ratings of its peers and triggering a sizable crash in the nation’s housing prices. With over 3,000 housing projects spread across every single Chinese province, Country Garden's financial health has enormous economic and social consequences, far greater than Evergrande. Even more worrying, if the group starts showing signs of weakness, it will dramatically damage the already fragile investor and homebuyer confidence, compromising China's economy and even social stability. Experts argue that’s when China's Lehman moment will finally emerge. Now, investors are paying close attention to Country Garden's capacity to raise funding from a variety of channels, especially considering that the offshore credit market remains effectively closed to most developers. The company must repay or refinance about US$1.3 billion on bonds this year, the majority of which are dollar notes. Its next bond maturity is a US$425 million bond due on January 27. Any indication of default can make the situation far more complicated. Keeping in mind that investor confidence is at historic lows, and the dollar bond market is essentially shut for developers, the sector currently has very limited refinancing options, which increases the risk of companies failing to pay the debt on time. “Risks across the Chinese property sector are rising, evident from difficult refinancing conditions for even the most well-regarded firms,” said Wei Liang Chang, a macro strategist at DBS Bank. “Greater clarity on the disclosure of liabilities as well as asset sales are crucial to shore up confidence,” he added. Bloomberg estimates also point out that at least seven Chinese developers have defaulted on dollar bonds since October. And this crisis is about to hit a whole new level as the very foundation of the property market loses financial support. If you’re wondering why does all of this matters, the truth is that as investor and consumer confidence evaporates in China, the inevitable collapse of these massive companies will hamper at least 25 percent of the Chinese GDP and set off a tsunami of bankruptcies this year, leaving a dent on global financial markets and slowing down the global economy. In the best-case scenario, Beijing will have a recession on its hands. In the worst-case scenario, a depression may follow, which will leave the world’s central banks scrambling to bail out the second biggest economic superpower on the planet. Regardless of the outcome, the impacts are going to be very painful. In short, this means that we’re heading to an era of credit tightening while inflation continues to soar and eats up a larger share of our purchasing power with each passing month.

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