Here’s what you need to know about Evergrande, and how it got to where it is now.
Outside housing, the group has invested in electric vehicles, sports and theme parks. It even owns a food and beverage business, selling bottled water, groceries, dairy products and other goods across China.
How did it run into trouble?
In recent years, Evergrande’s debts ballooned as it borrowed to finance its various pursuits.
The group has gained infamy for becoming China’s most indebted developer, with more than $300 billion worth of liabilities. Over the last few weeks, it’s warned investors of cash flow issues, saying that it could default if it’s unable to raise money quickly.
That warning was underscored on Tuesday, when Evergrande disclosed in a stock exchange filing that it was having trouble finding buyers for some of its assets.
In some ways, the company’s aggressive ambitions are what landed it in hot water, according to experts. The group “strayed far from its core business, which is part of how it got into this mess,” said Mattie Bekink, China director of the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Goldman Sachs analysts say the company’s structure has also made it “difficult to ascertain a more precise picture of [its] recovery.” In a note this week, they pointed to “the complexity of Evergrande Group, and the lack of sufficient information on the company’s assets and liabilities.”
But the group’s struggles are also emblematic of underlying risks in China.
“The story of Evergrande is the story of the deep [and] structural challenges to China’s economy related to debt,” said Bekink.
In a note Wednesday, Mark Williams, Capital Economics’ chief Asia economist, said that Evergrande’s collapse “would be the biggest test that China’s financial system has faced in years.”
“The root of Evergrande’s troubles — and those of other highly-leveraged developers — is that residential property demand in China is entering an era of sustained decline,” he wrote. “Evergrande’s ongoing collapse has focused attention on the impact a wave of property developer defaults would have on China’s growth.”
How is it trying to move forward?
On Tuesday, Evergrande announced that it had brought on financial advisers to help assess the situation.
While those firms are tasked with exploring “all feasible solutions” as quickly as possible, Evergrande has cautioned that nothing is guaranteed.
So far, the conglomerate has struggled to stem the bleeding, and has failed to find buyers for parts of its electric vehicle and property services businesses.
As of Tuesday, it had made “no material progress” in its search for investors, and “it is uncertain as to whether the group will be able to consummate any such sale,” it said.
The company has also been trying to sell off its office tower in Hong Kong, which it bought for about $1.6 billion in 2015. But that has “not been completed within the expected timetable,” it said.
How are investors reacting?
Evergrande’s problems spilled onto the streets this week when protests reportedly broke out at its headquarters in Shenzhen. Footage from Reuters showed scores of demonstrators at the site on Monday, accosting someone identified to be a company representative.
But shareholders have been wary for months: The stock has shed 80% of its value this year.
Last week, Fitch and Moody’s Investors Services both downgraded Evergrande’s credit ratings, citing its liquidity issues. “We view a default of some kind as probable,” Fitch wrote in a note Tuesday.
“In our opinion, how Evergrande credit stresses will be resolved will drive market sentiment,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote, referring to the credit market and the broader economy. They added that the Chinese bond market could be hit and a loss of confidence could “spill over to the broader property sector.”
Wall Street appears to be more sanguine about the risks of contagion overseas.
What could happen next?
Analysts expect the Chinese government to intervene to limit the fallout if Evergrande were to default. And authorities are clearly watching closely, while attempting to project calm.
On Wednesday, Fu Linghui, a spokesperson for China’s National Bureau of Statistics, acknowledged the difficulties of “some large real estate companies,” according to state media.
Without naming Evergrande directly, Fu said that China’s real estate market had remained stable this year but the impact of recent events “on the development of the whole industry needs to be observed.”
Williams, of Capital Economics, predicts that the country’s central bank “would step in with liquidity support” if fears of a major default intensified.
According to the report, officials in Evergrande’s home province of Guangdong have already rejected a bailout request from its founder. Guangdong authorities and Evergrande did not respond to a request for comment.
But some suggest it may already be too late to save the company.
Evergrande’s financial problems have been widely dubbed by Chinese media as “a huge black hole,” implying that no amount of money can resolve the issue.
“We do ultimately expect that the government will intervene in Evergrande’s case, as it will not allow the company’s defaults to spread into the banking system,” said Bekink.
“The impacts from a large default by Evergrande would be remarkable.”
— Kristie Lu Stout, Julia Horowitz, Laura He and CNN’s Beijing bureau contributed to this report.