Trading of Chinese property developer Kaisa shares halted in Hong Kong

Trading in shares of Chinese real estate developer Kaisa was halted Wednesday for the second time in two months, as troubles in China’s property sector resurfaced this week.

The developer had been snowed under by debt issues, as it struggled to make repayments recently.  It looked unlikely that it met its $400 million offshore debt deadline on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Kaisa halted trading in early November for nearly three weeks, following news that it had missed a payment on a wealth management product.

There was no immediate reason given for the latest trading halt. Kaisa had said in late November that it would restructure offshore debt payments due in December by offering investors new bonds worth $380 million that are now due in 2023. The original U.S. dollar-denominated bonds were worth $400 million.

But last week, the developer failed to close an exchange offer with bondholders. Among other options, bondholders could choose to buy new bonds issued by Kaisa that could be exchanged with equity in some of the developer’s listed units. That failure to reach a deal increased Kaisa’s chances of default, analysts have said.

Among Chinese developers, Kaisa is the second-largest issuer of U.S. dollar-denominated offshore high-yield bonds, according to French investment bank Natixis. Evergrande, the world’s most indebted real estate developer, ranks first.

Kaisa shares have slumped about 20% over the past month.

Evergrande, which saw its debt crisis surface in recent months, came back under the spotlight this week as it looked likely to officially default for the first time. There was still no word from the developer on whether it has paid $82.5 million worth of interest — the 30-day grace period ended Monday.

It would be the first time that the firm formally defaults if so, as it has managed to make the last few interest payments at the eleventh hour — within the grace period deadline.

However, Evergrande, the world’s most indebted developer, is set to forge ahead into a debt restructuring that would include all of its offshore public bonds and private debt.

Sentiment has also been buoyed by China’s move toward an emphasis on easing. On Monday, the country’s central bank said it would cut the reserve requirement ratio, or the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves, for the second time this year. That frees up 1.2 trillion yuan ($282 billion) to boost slowing growth amid the pandemic.

I think overall, the government understands that you will have a few failures, but the sector as a whole continues to be a very important part of the economy.

Teresa Kong

head of fixed income and portfolio manager, Matthews Asia

China’s real estate sector has been hit by the government’s moves to tame debt. Evergrande’s problems came to a head after the authorities rolled out the “three red lines” policy last year. That policy places a limit on debt in relation to a firm’s cash flows, assets and capital levels. That started to rein in developers after years of growth fueled by excessive debt.

Other Chinese real estate developers — apart from Kaisa — also started showing signs of strain – some missed interest payments, while others defaulted on their debt altogether.

“The story for China property still remains intact,” said Teresa Kong, head of fixed income and portfolio manager at Matthews Asia, suggesting that China’s pace of urbanization is still in the early stages.

“So there’s still many households that will be forming, especially the urban areas as workers continue to migrate out of the rural areas into the urban areas,” she told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Wednesday. “I think overall, the government understands that you will have a few failures, but the sector as a whole continues to be a very important part of the economy.”

Kong also highlighted that local provincial governments — which have been very dependent on land sales to developers — need to think about alternative sources of revenue.

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