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China real estate troubles sent debt indicator to record high


Data on fixed asset investments for the five first months of 2022 revealed that real estate investment fell more than in the previous four months. This is an image of a Huai’an City, Jiangsu Province in eastern China.

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BEIJING — A measure of risk levels for debt in Asia has surpassed its 2009 financial crisis high, thanks to a surge in downgrades of Chinese property developers since late last year, ratings agency Moody’s said Wednesday.

Among the relatively risky category of Asian high-yield companies outside Japan that are covered by Moody’s, the share with the most speculative ratings of “B3 negative” or lower has nearly doubled from last year — to a record high of 30.5% as of May, the firm said.

This is higher than the 27.3% reached during the global financial crises in May 2009 (during the global financial crisis), the report stated.
Moody’s reported that in 2018, only three Chinese property developers made up the risky portion of this share, as opposed to 24 for May 2022.

The new data doesn’t indicate a financial crisis, but it is possible.

The high-yield bond market is already more risky than those deemed investment grade. They offer higher returns but carry greater risks. Moody’s assigns a “B3-negative” rating to assets classified as “speculative, high risk and subject to credit risk”.

Downgrades are possible

A spate of downgrades against Chinese real-estate developers led to the record setting risky rating. This was due to growing concerns about Chinese debtors’ ability repayment.

Moody’s reported that it has issued 91 downgrades to high-yield Chinese property owners in the past nine months.

This is a record rate, according to the agency, given that 56 companies were downgraded in the 10 year period ending December 2020.

According to the report, some Chinese developers have had their bonds downgraded more times than once. The Moody’s B3 Negative or Lower List includes names Evergrande, Greenland, Agile Group, Sunac, Logan, Kaisa R&F.Evergrande was added to the list in August.

Kelly Chen (Vice President and Senior Analyst at Moody’s Investors Service) said that “our downgrade is a reflection the current very difficult operating environment for China’s property developer combined with tight funding environments for all of them.” She spoke to us by phone on Thursday.

“We have all observed that contract sales were quite weak. We haven’t seen significant rebound response to supportive policies,” she stated, adding that the effects would be most noticeable in the second quarter of this year.

Finance challenges

In recent months, the central Chinese government has attempted to help the property market by lowering mortgage rates and making it more affordable for buyers to purchase apartments in various cities.

For developer financing, the market is aware that the last half of the year saw the most severe cautions from commercial banks about the sector. [non-state-owned]Ones,” Hans Fan (deputy head, China and Hong Kong Research at CLSA), said last week in a telephone interview.

He maintained that some cautiousness persists. “Year-to-date what we see is that the banks are lending more to the state-owned enterprises for M&A purposes,” he said. That’s encouraging.

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Beijing demanded the development of stable, healthy real-estate markets and called for support to local governments for improving their regional property conditions at a high-ranking government Politburo meeting held in April. The leaders stressed that homes are meant to be lived in and not for speculation.

But, Chinese property developers are also facing a difficult financing environment.

Moody’s Wednesday report stated that companies rated lower than B3N have had difficulties issuing US dollars bonds in the past. With credit conditions being tighter, the US Dollar bond market remains relatively close to Asian high-yield issuesrs.

According to the agency, the rate of high-yield issuance fell 93% from $1.2 billion a year earlier.

More defaults expected

China’s huge real estate industry has been under severe pressure over the past two years, as Beijing attempts to reduce developers’ dependence on loans for growth and an increase in house prices.

Evergrande is one of the many developers that have published a number of these. billions of dollars’ worth in U.S. dollar-denominated debt. Investors worried that defaults might spread to China’s other economy, which is the second-largest in Asia.

Evergrande defaulted in December. Many other Chinese developers of real estate have defaulted on their interest payments or failed to pay them.

Moody’s Chen stated that Moody’s anticipates more Chinese real estate developers to default this year. According to Chen, the agency represents more than 50 companies in the sector. More than half are either under review or have negative outlooks.

It estimates that China’s GDP is 28% due to real estate and its related industries. Moody’s reduced its 2022 prediction for China’s GDP growth from 5.2% to 4.5% Tuesday. It was affected by Covid-19, the downturn in the property markets, and geopolitical threats.

This week’s data showed that the real estate market is still subdued.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics announced Wednesday that the real estate market in the first five month of 2015 fell by 4%, despite a rise overall in fixed assets investment.

According to Goldman Sachs analysis, property prices in 70 Chinese cities were unchanged in May. This is 0.1% more than a year ago.