China’s Evergrande says lenders have claimed $2bn in cash

Lenders to a property services unit of China Evergrande Group have claimed more than $2bn of its cash, dealing a blow to international investors in the heavily indebted real estate developer who were hoping to recoup some of their losses through the subsidiary.

The claim stands to hit the remaining value of Evergrande’s international bonds, which are already trading at a fraction of their $20bn face value following the company’s default late last year. A bond maturing in 2025 is trading at 13 cents on the dollar.

Evergrande said in a Tuesday filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange that lenders had taken over Rmb13.4bn ($2.1bn) of the subsidiary’s deposits that were pledged as security for “third party guarantees”. It did not give further details or identify the lenders.

The group, which owns more than 50 per cent of the unit, said it considers the move by the undisclosed lenders a “major incident” for the company and it had established an independent committee to “investigate the pledge guarantees” and assess its implications.

The claim highlights the uphill battle facing bondholders after months of limited disclosures and uncertainty over the future of the world’s most indebted developer, which is struggling to complete its hundreds of projects and service $300bn in liabilities as it undergoes the largest restructuring process in Chinese history.

The company became embroiled in a liquidity crisis last summer that has since swept the country’s real estate industry and crushed the value of bonds held by major international players, forcing them to closely watch the status of its Hong Kong-listed subsidiaries as they explore avenues to recover their investments.

The property services company raised $1.8bn through an initial public offering in late 2020. Advisers to bondholders expressed concerns over its planned sale to Hopson Development, a Hong Kong-based real estate company, as part of wider complaints last year over a lack of disclosure and corporate governance standards.

The sale, which fell through in October, raised the risks of proceeds being used for onshore liabilities such as construction costs instead of meeting debts outside China.

One person familiar with the situation suggested the money was likely to have been claimed by a mainland Chinese bank. “I think a western bank would understand they can’t take that money,” the person added.

Investors have focused on the risk of other claims on the group, especially from the mainland, that impede their ability to recover cash. A separate filing from December 2021 seen by the FT shows that about HK$300mn (US$38mn) worth of shares in the property services subsidiary that had been held as security had been enforced, but did not provide more details.

Evergrande also has an electric vehicle subsidiary that a year ago surpassed Ford in market capitalisation but has since lost more than 90 per cent of its value.

Trading in Evergrande and its subsidiaries was halted on Monday pending the release of “inside information”. A call scheduled with investors for yesterday was delayed and is expected to instead take place later today, the person said.

Evergrande also announced on Tuesday that it would not file its 2021 annual report in time to meet a March 31 deadline. Separately, it said it “is actively looking for solutions and communicating with its creditors” and had hired King & Wood Mallesons, a Hong Kong-based law firm, as an additional legal adviser.