China Evergrande Group, the most indebted property developer in China with US$328 billion of liabilities, was granted another reprieve after a Hong Kong court on Monday adjourned a hearing, granting the company more time to restructure its debts.
The next hearing will be on January 29, giving the Guangzhou-based developer eight weeks to get its house in order and stave off liquidation, Justice Linda Chan told a packed courthouse. This was the seventh time the petition has been adjourned.
This came as a surprise as the High Court judge had warned during the last hearing on October 30 that she was “highly likely” to grant a winding-up order, if no restructuring plan was forthcoming by December 4.
Justice Chan said the developer had consumed too much time over the past 18 months on its negotiations with creditors but she still approved the adjournment after lawyers said they may reach a deal that would offer higher returns to creditors than in the case of liquidation.
The company proposed a new restructuring plan to swap creditors’ debts for 30 per cent stakes in its Hong Kong-listed subsidiaries and a 17.8 per cent stake in Evergrande, according to Reuters’ report on November 30.
Veteran liquidator Derek Lai, vice-chair of Deloitte China, declined to comment on the Evergrande case, but said in general, the expected return for creditors in a successful restructuring would typically be higher than in the event of a liquidation.
“Once a company enters liquidation, the prices achieved from sales of certain assets could be lower than the prices achievable before a winding up order is made,” Lai said.
The winding-up petition was filed by Top Shine Global in to recover HK$862.5 million (US$110.4 million) from a botched investment in Evergrande made in March 2021.
Evergrande was founded by tycoon Hui Ka-yan, who is also known as Xu Jiayin on the mainland, in Guangzhou in 1996. The company listed in Hong Kong in 2009.
Under Hui’s aggressive strategy, the company grew rapidly as it borrowed heavily and sold flats off-plan. Evergrande used the high turnover to generate cash flow to fund growth, becoming the biggest Chinese developer by sales in 2017.
It then expanded into various areas, including football clubs, theme parks, bottled water, wealth management, healthcare services and electric vehicles.
The developer started experiencing problems repaying debt in 2021, with more than US$20 billion of debt in default. It had 2.39 trillion yuan (US$330 billion) of liabilities and only 13.38 billion yuan of cash on hand as of June 30, according to its latest interim report.
The developer has been trying to reorganise some US$20 billion of the defaulted debt and claims, in what is the largest workout by a Chinese company with offshore creditors. A proposal presented to creditors in March offered some creditors options, including instruments tied to equity of the company and its two Hong Kong-listed units.
However, shares of the car unit and property-management firm have plunged more than 70 per cent this year, putting their combined market value below HK$11 billion.
But the restructuring process again teetered in September, as Hui and several executives of Evergrande’s major mainland unit were detained by Chinese authorities. The company has also been unable to issue new bonds – a key plank in the restructuring plan – under local rules.
The regulatory uncertainty on the restructuring has proved to be an irritant to an ad hoc group of offshore creditors, who collectively hold more than US$6 billion.
They have argued that the situation has left them “in the dark” and that the liquidation was likely to “lead to the uncontrolled collapse” of Evergrande, according to a statement issued by their legal advisers Kirkland & Ellis, and Moelis & Company Asia in October.