Evergrande suspends trading of its shares amid reports of the potential demolition of its mega island project

January 3, 2022, 9:30 AM UTC

China Evergrande Group suspended trading of its shares on the Hong Kong stock exchange Monday amid reports that the embattled Shenzhen-based property giant has been ordered to tear down scores of apartment blocks in development in China’s southern Hainan province.

Evergrande, the world’s most indebted property developer, offered no explanation for the abrupt trading halt. In a statement filed with the Hong Kong exchange, the company, which is struggling to repay more than $300 billion in liabilities, said only that it had requested the suspension pending an announcement that will include “inside information.”

Brock Silvers, managing director of Kaiyuan Capital, says the announcement is likely related to Evergrande’s ongoing restructuring process. The Guangdong provincial government is currently overseeing Evergrande’s restructuring, but little is known about the process.

“The halt isn’t good news for shareholders, but many analysts have long believed that the company’s equity represents minimal value,” Silvers says. “The impending announcement still could be positive for bondholders, however, especially if it clarifies the company’s restructuring process.”

Evergrande failed to make coupon payments in early December related to the firm’s staggering debt load, which includes nearly $20 billion in bonds sold over international markets. Global ratings agencies including Fitch Ratings and S&P Global classified the firm as formally in default.

In the weeks since, Evergrande’s liquidity squeeze has not eased. On Dec. 31, the developer’s wealth management unit announced that it would lower its payment amounts to investors in its wealth management products owing to the firm’s inability to raise funds. Over 70,000 people have purchased wealth management products from Evergrande, and the company’s failure to meet payments related to these products has prompted nationwide protests against the indebted firm in recent months. Evergrande also failed to pay offshore bond coupon payments due last week, but still has a 30-day grace period to meet that obligation.

Evergrande’s liquidity crisis is “definitely getting worse,” says Bo Zhuang, a China economist at Loomis Sayles. “Evergrande’s new property sales have not recovered and have not even improved.”

But Zhuang speculates that it may be too early for Evergrande to release a new restructuring plan, given that the company only announced the restructuring committee a few weeks ago. “But nobody really knows,” he says.

Zhuang speculated that Evergrande’s trade halt may be more related to a government order that Evergrande demolish a recently built mega apartment complex.

Evergrande had built 39 luxury apartment buildings in Danzhou city in southern Hainan province on Ocean Flower Island, a development fashioned from three plots of reclaimed land shaped like a flower. But recently Chinese authorities have reportedly ordered Evergrande to destroy the 39 apartment buildings within the next 10 days after Evergrande allegedly secured building permits through “unlawful” means.

Evergrande claims to be the main architect of Ocean Flower Island, a $35 billion project that opened to tourists last year. Evergrande billed the development as the world’s largest reclaimed tourist island and promised it would compete with the likes of Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah in luring domestic and foreign visitors. Initial plans called for the island to host the largest conference center in the world, 58 hotels, six shopping streets, an opera house, and a botanical garden, among other attractions.

Amid Evergrande’s halt, Chinese property stocks declined across the board on Monday, with share prices of Chinese developer Sunac China Holdings, Shimao Property Holdings, and Country Garden Holdings falling by 10%, 7%, and 3%, respectively.

Chinese property developers with liquidity issues are in “deep trouble,” says Zhuang.

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