After multiple delays and even a few faint glimmers of hope, a Hong Kong court has sounded the death knell for what was once China’s biggest real estate firm.
Months after China Evergrande ran out of cash and defaulted in 2021, investors around the world scooped up the property developer’s discounted I.O.U.’s, betting that the Chinese government would eventually step in to bail it out.
On Monday it became clear just how misguided that bet was. After two years in limbo, Evergrande was ordered by a court in Hong Kong to liquidate, a move that will set off a race by lawyers to find and grab anything belonging to Evergrande that can be sold.
The order is also likely to send shock waves through financial markets that are already skittish about China’s economy.
Evergrande is a real estate developer with more than $300 billion in debt, sitting in the middle of the world’s biggest housing crisis. There isn’t much left in its sprawling empire that is worth much. And even those assets may be off limits because property in China has become intertwined with politics.
Evergrande, as well as other developers, overbuilt and over promised, taking money for apartments that had not been built and leaving hundreds of thousands of home buyers waiting on their apartments. Now that dozens of these companies have defaulted, the government is frantically trying to force them to finish the apartments, putting everyone in a difficult position because contractors and builders have not been paid for years.
What happens next in the unwinding of Evergrande will test the belief long held by foreign investors that China will treat them fairly. The outcome could help spur or further tamp down the flow of money into Chinese markets when global confidence in China is already shaken.