Chinese banks try to calm fears about developer’s debts

BEIJING (AP) – Seeking to dispel fears of financial turmoil, some Chinese banks are disclosing what they are owed by a real estate developer that is struggling under USD310 billion in debt, saying they can cope with a potential default.

The announcements came as Evergrande Group promised to talk with some individual investors who bought its debt while creditors waited to see whether Beijing will intervene to oversee a restructuring to prevent financial disruptions.

Evergrande’s struggle to meet government-imposed debt limits has prompted fears a default might disrupt the Chinese economy or global financial markets. While ratings agencies say a default appears likely, economists say Beijing can prevent a credit crunch in China but wants to avoid bailing out Evergrande while it tries to force companies to reduce debt levels.

One of Evergrande’s biggest lenders, Zheshang Bank Co said it is owed USD588 million and has “sufficient collateral.”

“The overall risk is controllable,” the bank said in a written answer to questions on a website run by the Shanghai Stock Exchange. It said a “risk situation . . . will not have a significant impact” on the bank.

Men on electric bikes wait for riders near the Evergrande headquarters in Shenzhen, China. PHOTO: AP

Others, including Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Ltd, gave no financial figures but said their lending was small, tied to individual projects and secured by claims to land. The Pudong bank said it was in “close communication” with Evergrande.

Changshu Rural Commercial Bank Co. in the eastern province of Jiangsu said it had USD600,000 in outstanding loans to Evergrande, secured by land. The biggest state-owned commercial lenders including Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd didn’t respond to questions. Evergrande was caught by stricter borrowing limits imposed on real estate last year by regulators who are trying to reduce surging debt levels the ruling Communist Party worries might drag on economic growth that already is in long-term decline. Regulators have yet to say what Beijing might do, but economists say if the ruling party gets involved, it probably will focus on making sure families get apartments they already have paid for, rather than trying to bail out banks or other creditors.

Evergrande is one of China’s biggest private sector conglomerates, with more than 200,000 employees, 1,300 projects in 280 cities and assets of USD350 billion. It owes creditors some USD310 billion.

Other major developers such as Vanke Co, state-owned Poly Group and Wanda Group have not reported similar problems.

But hundreds of smaller developers have shut down since regulators in 2017 started tightening control over financing.

Yesterday, investors in Evergrande debt who gathered at its headquarters in the southern city of Shenzhen said the company agreed to hold a phone meeting with them. Dozens of police officers with six vehicles stood guard outside the building.

Evergrande said earlier it negotiated details of an interest payment due on Thursday to banks and other bondholders in China but gave no details.