In a new twist to China's tumultuous real estate sector, leading property developer Country Garden has failed to make a $15 million coupon repayment. This lapse has raised alarms, with sources revealing that bondholders, anxious about potential defaults, are now pushing for immediate discussions with the developer.
This urgency has led to the formation of two bondholder groups, one of which is in advanced stages of selecting financial advisors from renowned firms such as Moelis or PJT. This group, holding a considerable $2 billion in Country Garden's offshore bonds, consists mainly of international and fund manager investors.
"We are seeing a heightened need for transparency and clarity as concerns mount," said an insider, choosing anonymity due to the confidential nature of the details.
In another significant development, ratings giant Moody's has expressed concerns over Country Garden's financial health, hinting at a possible downgrade of the developer's 'corporate family rating'. Moody's raised eyebrows by stating that the company's senior unsecured rating is already at the floor of its ratings hierarchy.
The real estate giant, facing a potential liquidity crisis, seems to be looking at offloading assets. Notably, its Australian arm is on the brink of sealing a deal worth $250 million. The sale involves an undeveloped housing plot in Melbourne, expected to be acquired by Singapore's Frasers Property. Although both parties have refrained from commenting, this significant move was initially spotlighted by the Australian Financial Review.
However, concerns abound regarding Country Garden's substantial offshore bonds, valued at a whopping $11 billion. Missing the aforementioned payment may propel the company towards one of China's largest corporate debt restructurings. As of now, the developer remains tight-lipped about its payment status but had earlier signaled its inability to fulfill most forthcoming offshore debt obligations.
"Everyone's watching closely. Country Garden's journey towards debt restructuring is anticipated to be challenging," stated a representative from CreditSights.
The real estate firm is not solely dependent on domestic challenges. Four years ago, Country Garden embarked on an ambitious venture southwest of Sydney. Named Wilton Greens, the project was visualized as a vast community with 3,600 homes. However, today, the site remains largely barren with less than 50 houses underway.
"It's a stark difference between what was promised and the current reality. The landscape that was envisioned is nowhere in sight. It will take decades to achieve that vision," lamented Sebastian Pfautsch, an urban planning professor at the University of Western Sydney.
This disparity highlights the impact of tightening financial conditions on China's mega-developers as they grapple with rising interest rates and diminishing abilities to service debt.
Suzy Brandstater, a local council member, voiced her concerns, "It's disheartening. Trusting vague promises about infrastructure isn't good enough."
However, some investors remain hopeful. A few buyers at Wilton Greens see value appreciation in their land, suggesting Country Garden might not face losses in Australia.
Country Garden's CEO for Australia, Guotao Hu, defended their position, stating that their assets in Australia remain robust. "This sale aligns with Risland's strategy of portfolio optimization," he mentioned, referencing the developer's Australian subsidiary.
In the backdrop of these challenges, Country Garden's leadership remains resilient. The company dispelled rumors regarding its founder Yeung Kwok Keung and chairperson Yang Huiyan leaving the country. Instead, they emphasized their commitment and showcased their recent interactions with state-owned entities, reiterating their devotion to China's growth.
Yet, with the shadow of the China Evergrande crisis looming large, Country Garden's journey ahead remains fraught with uncertainties.