Chinese Developer Drowns in Debt

Real estate developer collapses under equivalent of US$566.6 million in debt, less than two weeks after China's first corporate bond default.

A closely held Chinese real estate developer with 3.5 billion yuan (US$566.6 million) of debt has collapsed and its largest shareholder was detained, said government officials familiar with the matter.

Zhejiang Xingrun Real Estate Co. doesn’t have enough cash to repay creditors that include more than 15 banks, with China Construction Bank Corp. (CCB) holding more than 1 billion yuan of its debt, according to the officials, who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter. The company’s majority shareholder and his son, its legal representative, have been detained and face charges of illegal fundraising, the officials said.

The collapse of the company, based in the eastern town of Fenghua, adds to concern of strains in the nation’s real estate sector and comes less than two weeks after the first bond default by a Chinese company. Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology Co.’s inability to repay its debt may become China’s own “Bear Stearns moment,” prompting investors to reassess credit risks as they did after the U.S. securities firm was rescued in 2008, Bank of America Corp. said March 5.

Zhejiang Xingrun’s collapse was reported earlier today by the Chinese-language National Business Daily, which cited an unidentified government official for the news. The report blamed the failure on mismanagement and high costs of private lending, according to the newspaper.

The city of Ningbo has jurisdiction over the town of Fenghua, which is the birthplace of former Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek. Fenghua is in discussions with the banks and Ningbo on how to repay the debt, the people said. They said Zhejiang Xingrun has assets worth 3 billion yuan.

Two calls to the chairman’s office and financial department at Zhejiang Xingrun weren’t answered today. A woman who answered the phone at the Fenghua government’s news office who declined to give her name confirmed that the company cannot pay its debt. A Beijing-based press officer at CCB said the bank asked for more information from its local branch about the report and hasn’t heard back.


Property Curbs

“We think the default of the developer will alert the banks on escalating risk from developers amid the liquidity tightening,” said Johnson Hu, a Hong Kong-based property analyst at CIMB-GK Securities Research. “We maintain our view that banks may revisit loan policy on property and may take a stricter stance on property development loans, particularly for small developers.”

The property market in smaller Chinese cities faces “true risks of a sharp correction” due to oversupply, and investors may have underestimated the risk, Nomura Holdings Inc. economists said in a March 14 report.

Property shares slid to a 16-month low in February after Industrial Bank Co. suspended mezzanine financing for developers, adding to concerns that smaller developers may default on their borrowings amid the government’s property curbs and an economic slowdown.

New home prices in Ningbo rose 7.1 percent in January from a year earlier, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The city in February recorded the 10th lowest yield on residential investments in the past year among 116 Chinese cities, with negative 1.1 percent, according to a March 13 report by Zhongjin Standard Data Research Ltd., a Hong Kong-based data provider.

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