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Evergrande debt setback, Oceanwide blow rattle China property stocks

By Donny Kwok and Scott Murdoch

HONG KONG/SYDNEY (Reuters) - Another obstacle to embattled developer China Evergrande Group's long-pending debt restructuring plan rekindled fears for China's crisis-hit property sector on Monday, sparking a stock sell-off.

Developer China Oceanwide Holdings added to investor concerns in an exchange filing which said that a Bermuda court had ordered its winding up and appointed joint provisional liquidators.

The latest developments reversed a brief respite for China's property sector, which accounts for roughly a quarter of its economy, on the back of Beijing's support measures and two other major developers forging debt deals with their creditors.


Evergrande, the world's most indebted developer and poster child of China's property sector crisis, has been seeking creditor approval for an offshore debt restructuring after it defaulted in 2021.

Under the plan unveiled in March, Evergrande proposed options to offshore creditors, including swapping their debt holdings into new notes with maturities of 10 to 12 years.

But in an unexpected twist, Evergrande said on Sunday it was unable to issue new debt due to an ongoing investigation into its main domestic subsidiary, Hengda Real Estate Group Co Ltd.

Hengda said last month it was being investigated by China's securities regulator for a suspected violation over the disclosure of information.

Evergrande's shares dropped 21.8% on Monday to their lowest close since Sept 5 and in their biggest one-day percentage drop since Aug. 28. The Hang Seng Mainland Properties Index fell 4.2%, the biggest one-day percentage decline since Aug. 8.

"Hopes of any meaningful recovery for the Evergrande debt holder are vanishing," said Fern Wang, KT Capital Group senior researcher, who publishes on Smartkarma.

"Yet liquidation is not in the cards for Evergrande, the government's number one priority is to ensure the timely delivery of pre-sold homes and Evergrande's liquidation would not help the cause," Wang added.


The latest roadblock in Evergrande's debt restructuring plan opens a new front for the developer just a week after police detained some staff at its wealth management unit.

Evergrande's offshore debt restructuring involves a total of $31.7 billion, which includes bonds, collateral and repurchase obligations, potentially making it one of the world's biggest.

In July, the hearing for a winding-up petition against Evergrande in a Hong Kong court was adjourned to Oct. 30, in order to wait for the result from the developer's meeting with creditors to vote on its debt restructuring plan.

That meeting is scheduled for mid-October. However, the latest disclosure by Evergrande puts the meeting, as well as its outcome, in doubt. It is not clear if the developer will come up with a new proposal to replace the offering of new notes.

Evergrande needs approval from more than 75% of the holders of each debt class to approve the plan.

"This will entail more delays, but I wouldn't say that Evergrande's restructuring proposal is now dead in the water," said Sandra Chow, CreditSight co-head of Asia Pacific research, referring to the developer's inability to offer new notes.


The winding-up petitions against Evergrande and Oceanwide are among a growing list of such proceedings launched against developers as they failed to meet their debt payment obligations after an unprecedented liquidity crunch hit the sector in 2021.

Oceanwide's winding up court order, filed after it missed some debt payments, is one of the few to have been carried out against a defaulted Chinese developer in recent years.

The Chinese developers' debt woes have left unfinished homes and unpaid suppliers, shattering consumer confidence in the world's second-largest economy. Property investment, sales, and new construction starts have been contracting for over a year.

Many of the defaulted developers have been trying to get their offshore creditors' approval for debt restructuring plans to avoid collapse or being forced into liquidation proceedings.

The Evergrande development comes as leading developers such as Country Garden scramble to avoid a default, keeping homebuyer sentiment depressed despite Beijing's support measures to prop up the sector and spur property demand.

As of the end of August, the combined floor area of unsold homes stood at 648 million square metres (7 billion square feet), the latest National Bureau of Statistics data shows.

"There might be all kinds of complexities in restructuring/negotiations, other legal issues, but in the end, the key factor will be when and to what extent we will see the homebuyers come back," said Robert Ciemniak, co-founder of Real Estate Foresight who publishes on Smartkarma.

(Reporting by Donny Kwok in Hong Kong and Scott Murdoch in Sydney; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Sam Holmes and Alexander Smith)