(Bloomberg) -- The developer at the epicenter of China’s property debt crisis appears to be inching closer to unveiling a restructuring blueprint, after a long delay that has frustrated investors and highlights their struggle in a country still relatively new to defaults.
China Evergrande Group is planning to meet with an ad-hoc group of its dollar bondholders Friday to formally discuss a debt restructuring proposal, people familiar with the matter said. The meeting could mark a significant step toward more details of a keenly-awaited restructuring plan, after the builder roiled markets late last year by defaulting on dollar bonds.
Other people familiar with the matter said late last week that offshore creditors were signing confidentiality agreements to advance debt negotiations.
Evergrande is the world’s most indebted developer, and its restructuring would be one of China’s biggest ever, with implications for banks, trust firms and millions of home owners. The builder has become emblematic of a broader crisis in the property sector, where strains spread after a government crackdown from 2020 on excessive borrowing and real estate speculation.
Contagion from that shock dragged Chinese offshore junk notes, most of which come from property firms, deep into distress earlier this year. Those securities just had one of their biggest rallies ever in recent weeks, after China ramped up efforts to rescue the sector and relaxed some Covid controls. Average prices have climbed to about 68 cents on the dollar, near the highest since April.
But as Evergrande’s case illustrates, creditors face a long and uncertain road to recovering funds. The developer’s dollar notes still trade below 10 cents.
The planned meeting for Friday between Evergrande and the ad-hoc group is still subject to change, the people familiar said, asking not to be identified discussing private matters.
A media representative of Evergrande didn’t offer a comment when reached by Bloomberg. Advisers to the ad-hoc group, Moelis & Co. and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, haven’t responded to emails seeking comment Thursday. A person who answered the main line of Moelis’s Hong Kong office and a media representative of Kirkland didn’t immediately offer comments.
The company had previously told offshore creditors that it planned to present a restructuring proposal as soon as the first week of December, Bloomberg reported last month. The builder also said in a Hong Kong winding-up court hearing in late November that it expected to get backing from major offshore creditors by late February or early March.
While the upcoming meeting with the bondholders brings hopes of Evergrande finally making some headway on reaching a debt solution, the developer has disappointed investors in the past, including a failure to deliver a preliminary blueprint it promised by the end of July.
Evergrande is racing against a self-imposed deadline to present restructuring proposals by year-end, as creditors lose patience. With 1.97 trillion yuan ($283 billion) of liabilities, the company’s debt overhaul would ripple through China’s $58 trillion financial system.
The property sector’s unprecedented debt woes, an outcome of a severe housing slump and Beijing’s previous campaign to cut financial leverage, has weighed heavily on the world’s No. 2 economy. It has unleashed a record wave of defaults by developers this year and led to mortgage boycotts by angry home buyers.
The crisis has prompted authorities to ramp up efforts in recent months to rein in risks to financial and social stability. They included a sweeping rescue package aimed at easing developers’ cash crunch and stimulating home demand, relaxations of builders’ fundraising curbs, and financing support from the nation’s biggest state lenders.
That said, some of these measures, such as the potential support from banks, are expected to mostly benefit healthier developers, while the weaker ones or defaulters may continue to struggle to access funding.
--With assistance from Emma Dong and Dorothy Ma.
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