China’s Country Garden Buys Time to Repay Debt—but Not Long
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China’s Country Garden Buys Time to Repay Debt—but Not Long

The property giant has a second chance to make an interest payment this week

By CAO LI
Tue, Sep 5, 2023 7:45amGrey Clock 3 min

HONG KONG—China’s top surviving private developer bought more time to sort out its liquidity problems, giving investors hope that it will cobble together enough cash to avoid defaulting on its U.S. dollar bonds this week.

Country Garden Holdings on Friday said it got approval from investors in mainland China to extend the maturity date of $537 million in domestic bonds by three years. The yuan-denominated debt was originally due Monday. An offshore unit of the 31-year-old property giant separately made an interest payment of around $600,000 on a bond denominated in Malaysian ringgit on Monday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The debt extension and bond payment created optimism that Country Garden can address a debt load that includes a range of foreign currency bonds—and a make-or-break interest payment this week.

The developer’s Hong Kong-listed shares jumped 15% on Monday, closing at their highest level in about three weeks. Other Chinese property stocks also gained, while the broader Hang Seng Index rose 2.5%.

Country Garden’s bond prices also edged higher, although most of its dollar bonds remained below 10 cents on the dollar, levels that indicate a high probability of default.

Chinese authorities have taken more steps in recent days to shore up the country’s beleaguered housing market, where sales have declined for most of the last two years. Last Thursday, the People’s Bank of China lowered minimum down payments on first and second home purchases and told banks they can lower the rates on existing mortgages. Regulators also recently expanded the definition of a first-time home buyer, a category that comes with lower mortgage rates and smaller down payments.

The rule changes helped to draw more people to real estate showrooms over the weekend. Demand for new homes in Shanghai increased noticeably after the new measures were implemented, according to Chen Julan, a senior analyst with China Index Academy. In Beijing, some developers withdrew discounts and adjusted their prices slightly higher, the research firm said.

The new rules could give a temporary boost to home sales in about a dozen major cities, said Song Hongwei, a research director of Tongce Research Institute, which tracks and analyses China’s real-estate market. He said lower-tier, poorer cities may not reap similar benefits and predicted that the overall housing market will eventually weaken again.

Country Garden’s recent cash crunch has largely been a result of slumping home sales in many parts of China. The company is one of the biggest surviving privately run developers and has a large presence in the country’s poorer regions. In August, it sold homes valued at a total of around $1.1 billion, almost three-quarters lower than a year earlier.

The company missed $22.5 million in coupon payments on bonds with a total face value of $1 billion in early August, and has a 30-day grace period to come up with the money. That grace period expires this week.

Even if it does pay the interest on its dollar bonds this week, it has many more coupon payments due in the coming months. Investors are skeptical that it can avoid default—unless its sales start growing again. Country Garden’s most recent financial report said that as of June 30, it had the equivalent of $15 billion in bonds, bank debt and other borrowings due within a year.

The company lost more than $7 billion in the first half of 2023, its worst financial performance since it went public in 2007, after its contracted sales for the period shrank 30%. Country Garden told investors it was “deeply remorseful” but said it was committed to turning things around.

China’s economy has struggled through much of this year, with falling exports, weak manufacturing and a slowdown in consumer spending all pointing to problems broader than a property slowdown. But cracks in the property sector, which was once seen as a major source of wealth creation in China, are exacerbating the broader economic malaise.

Chinese property developers’ falling property margins and weak sales will weigh on earnings until the end of next year, according to analysts at S&P Global Ratings. Not all developers will feel the same degree of pain. Those with links to the government or with good access to financing are better positioned to endure the fall in margins, the S&P analysts said in a note on Monday.



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Hong Kong Takes Drastic Action to Avert Property Slump

The city’s real-estate market has been hurt by high interest rates and mainland China’s economic slowdown

By ELAINE YU
Fri, Mar 1, 2024 3 min

Hong Kong has taken a bold step to ease a real-estate slump, scrapping a series of property taxes in an effort to turn around a market that is often seen as a proxy for the city’s beleaguered economy.

The government has removed longstanding property taxes that were imposed on nonpermanent residents, those buying a second home, or people reselling a property within two years after buying, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said in his annual budget speech on Wednesday.

The move is an attempt to revive a property market that is still one of the most expensive in the world, but that has been badly shaken by social unrest, the fallout of the government’s strict approach to containing Covid-19 and the slowdown of China’s economy . Hong Kong’s high interest rates, which track U.S. rates due to its currency peg,  have increased the pressure .

The decision to ease the tax burden could encourage more buying from people in mainland China, who have been a driving force in Hong Kong’s property market for years. Chinese tycoons, squeezed by problems at home, have  in some cases become forced sellers  of Hong Kong real estate—dealing major damage to the luxury segment.

Hong Kong’s super luxury homes  have lost more than a quarter of their value  since the middle of 2022.

The additional taxes were introduced in a series of announcements starting in 2010, when the government was focused on cooling down soaring home prices that had made Hong Kong one of the world’s least affordable property markets. They are all in the form of stamp duty, a tax imposed on property sales.

“The relevant measures are no longer necessary amidst the current economic and market conditions,” Chan said.

The tax cuts will lead to more buying and support prices in the coming months, said Eddie Kwok, senior director of valuation and advisory services at CBRE Hong Kong, a property consultant. But in the longer term, the market will remain sensitive to the level of interest rates and developers may still need to lower their prices to attract demand thanks to a stockpile of new homes, he said.

Hong Kong’s authorities had already relaxed rules last year to help revive the market, allowing home buyers to pay less upfront when buying certain properties, and cutting by half the taxes for those buying a second property and for home purchases by foreigners. By the end of 2023, the price index for private homes reached a seven-year low, according to Hong Kong’s Rating and Valuation Department.

The city’s monetary authority relaxed mortgage rules further on Wednesday, allowing potential buyers to borrow more for homes valued at around $4 million.

The shares of Hong Kong’s property developers jumped after the announcement, defying a selloff in the wider market. New World Development , Sun Hung Kai Properties and Henderson Land Development were higher in afternoon trading, clawing back some of their losses from a slide in their stock prices this year.

The city’s budget deficit will widen to about $13 billion in the coming fiscal year, which starts on April 1. That is larger than expected, Chan said. Revenues from land sales and leases, an important source of government income, will fall to about $2.5 billion, about $8.4 billion lower than the original estimate and far lower than the previous year, according to Chan.

The sweeping property measures are part of broader plans by Hong Kong’s government to prop up the city amid competition from Singapore and elsewhere. Stringent pandemic controls and anxieties about Beijing’s political crackdown led to  an exodus of local residents and foreigners  from the Asian financial centre.

But tens of thousands of Chinese nationals have arrived in the past year, the result of Hong Kong  rolling out new visa rules aimed at luring talent in 2022.

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