China Huarong Asset Management (2799 HK) was originally set up in 1999 by Beijing, in response to the Asian financial crisis, to bail out a State-owned bank – ICBC – before listing. Rumours abound the State may resort to bailing out Huarong or risk a domino effect of losses at other (state-owned) entities which have lent to Huarong.
The bailer becomes the bailee?
Huarong’s woes are not new. Its chairman, Lai Xiaomin was placed under investigation for graft in April 2018, following which he resigned for “personal reasons“.
Shortly after, Hong Kong’s SFC froze HK$10.17bn of assets in three brokers – this amount is the loss incurred by Huarong. In the SFC’s words, a certain person “orchestrated fraudulent schemes by colluding with certain personnel of the management of a listed company [Huarong] or its subsidiaries in 2 suspicious transactions stemming from a loan facility indirectly granted to the Person by the listed company”.
Fast forward to the 29 January this year wherein Lai Xiaomin was executed in what Bloomberg (perhaps) sardonically concluded was an unusually harsh sentence for a bribery conviction.
Huarong has been suspended since the 1 April 2021 after failing to despatch its 2020 annual report. In Hong Kong, companies are afforded three months from year-end to do so.
Huarong is not alone – at least 50 Hong Kong-listed companies have failed to report earnings on the March 31 deadline. Last year, 384 Hong Kong companies did not publish annual results by March 31, but were able to continue trading after the exchange and markets regulator relaxed the rules due to the pandemic. This year there was no such arrangement.
But Huarong has come under pressure following a commentary from Caixin Media of a possible bankruptcy. In a commentary dated on Monday, Ling Huawei, managing editor of Caixin Media and Caixin Weekly, discussed the possibility of a China Huarong bankruptcy. “As of mid-2020, Huarong had 160 billion yuan [$20 billion] in net assets, and more than 30 billion yuan in loan-loss provisions,” she wrote “Huarong needs to be thoroughly recapitalised and have the value of its nonperforming assets correctly recalculated. It needs to take a big bath.”
The yield on Huarong’s US$300mn 3.375% bond due May 2022 has blown out to 23%.
This has all the hallmarks of the Evergrande Real Estate Group (3333 HK) situation in September last year covered by Travis Lundy in Evergrande May Be Facing a Funding Squeeze.
The equity here, as might be expected, is the riskier option if the company goes bust. Yet a systematic restructuring process is a more likely outcome here.
Creditors are also often protected but this situation will test both state support of an SOE and how keepwell agreements are treated. The offshore bonds at ~70c look interesting.