By Xie Yu
HONG KONG (Reuters) -Embattled property developer China Evergrande Group aims to win creditors’ approval for its debt restructuring proposals by as early as the end of February, the company’s lawyers said on Monday.
Once China’s top-selling developer, Evergrande is now at the centre of the country’s property crisis. Its $22.7 billion of offshore debt, including loans and private bonds, is deemed to be in default after missed payments late last year.
With few fresh funding options and slowing property sales, Evergrande, which has $300 billion in total liabilities, began one of China’s biggest debt-restructuring processes this year.
Evergrande expects to firm up debt restructuring proposals by end-February or early-March, lawyers for the developer told a Hong Kong court, which adjourned a winding-up lawsuit against the developer to March 20, 2023.
Reuters reported earlier this month that Evergrande would sign non-disclosure pacts with bondholders in November to prepare for negotiations in December, with terms to be finalised early next year, citing a source with knowledge of the matter.
An investor in Evergrande unit Fangchebao, an online real estate and automobile marketplace, filed the winding-up petition against the embattled property developer in June because it had not honoured an agreement to repurchase shares the investor bought in FCB.
Evergrande and its major offshore credit group have expressed their opposition to the winding-up petition, saying the developer was actively pushing forward with the offshore debt restructuring work in the interest of all creditors.
A lawyer representing the petitioner said Evergrande has not involved his client in the restructuring discussions and they have no information on the process. Evergrande’s lawyer said the firm plans to work out a proposal before sharing it with all of the creditors.
During Monday’s hearing, judge Linda Chan said Evergrande would need to convey “something much more concrete” on its debt revamp process by the next hearing. She directed Evergrande to file a progress report on the restructuring process 14 days ahead of the next hearing.
As part of options being considered for the restructuring proposal, Evergrande is looking at using domestic assets and offering them as additional credit enhancement to secure offshore creditor approval, sources have told Reuters.
Offshore, its major assets in Hong Kong have been taken over by creditors.
In what could potentially cast a shadow over its plan to use onshore assets as sweeteners for bondholders, a public filing showed on Saturday that a land plot owned by Evergrande has been taken over by a state-backed company in Shenzhen for 7.5 billion yuan ($1.04 billion).
Evergrande purchased the land for 5.6 billion yuan in 2017, and planned to develop it into the group’s headquarters, Reuters previously reported.
The project has been suspended since September 2021, Chinese media outlet Caijing reported on Monday.
A spokesperson for Evergrande declined to comment.
($1 = 7.2052 yuan)
(Reporting by Xie Yu; Additional reporting by Shuyan Wang in Beijing; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)