Shares in the embattled Chinese property giant Evergrande have slumped again after two credit downgrades in two days amid concerns that it will default on its massive $300bn debt pile.
Evergrande, which is one of the world’s most indebted companies, has seen its shares tumble 75% this year. They fell by almost 10% on Thursday morning to HK$3.35, which is below the listing price when the company floated on the Hong Kong market in 2009.
Trading in one of the company’s bonds was suspended by the Shenzhen stock exchange on Thursday morning after the price plunged 20%.
The online market trading platform IG said Evergrande posed “a risk of contagion” after Bloomberg reported that Credit Suisse and Citibank were no longer accepting the bonds of another highly indebted Chinese property developer, Fantasia, as collateral.
There were also reports from China on Wednesday of employees protesting outside the company’s offices about salaries not being paid. Evergrande claims to employ 200,000 people and indirectly generate 3.8 million jobs in China.
The company has run up a mountain of liabilities totalling more than $300bn after years of borrowing to fund rapid growth and a string of real estate acquisitions as well as other assets including a Chinese football team.
But the firm has struggled to service its debts and a crackdown on the property sector by Beijing has made it even harder to raise cash, fuelling concerns it will go bankrupt.
The value of new home sales has fallen 20% in China since the peak in the first three months of this year, and the value of land sales are also sharply down. Along with Beijing’s tougher regulation, these factors have made it much harder for Evergrande to dispose of unsold properties even with huge discounts.
On Tuesday, a stock exchange filing showed that Evergrande had outstanding liabilities worth 562m yuan ($87m) to a supplier called Skshu Paint and repaid some of the money in the form of apartments in three unfinished property projects.
Xi Jinping, China’s president, has targeted “unsustainable” economic growth in recent months, along with his drive against the country’s increasingly powerful tech billionaires.
But whether he would allow Evergrande to go bust if it fails to meet key repayment deadlines on 21 September remains unclear.
Many analysts warn such an event could have a serious impact on the world’s number two economy because the firm would go under, leaving hundreds of firms out of pocket.
Those worries were increased on Wednesday when Fitch cut its rating on Evergrande to CC, reflecting its view that “a default of some kind appears probable”.
“We believe credit risk is high given tight liquidity, declining contracted sales, pressure to address delayed payments to suppliers and contractors, and limited progress on asset disposals,” said a Fitch Ratings statement.
The move came a day after Moody’s slashed its rating, indicating it is “likely in, or very near, default”, while Goldman Sachs has cut the stock from neutral to sell.
Last week, the group said its total liabilities had swelled to 1.97tn yuan ($305bn) and warned of risks of defaults on borrowings.
It issued a profit warning at the end of August in which it admitted that it could default on debt payments. The warning came days after Xu Jiayin, the billionaire founder of Evergrande Group and the third richest person in China, resigned as chairman of its real estate arm.
In the latest indication of the company’s funding challenges, financial information provider REDD reported on Wednesday that the company would suspend interest payments due on loans to two banks on 21 September.
James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute, said Evergrande could be forced into a fire sale but cautioned that the sheer size of the business meant that the situation might not be as dire as some imagined.
“It’s always important when talking about debts to remember that the company also has assets. This state-owned enterprise may be indebted but you rack it up against assets and it has by far bigger assets. When you compare the two, I don’t think it will spin out of control.
“I’d be surprised if Xi allows a full-scale bailout, but you have to see it in the context of a $14tn economy.”