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China debt crunch

Hong Kong banks suspend mortgages to Evergrande projects in city

Cutoff deepens woes of world's most indebted property developer

Hong Kong banks have stopped approving mortgages for properties under development by China Evergrande Group in the city, sources say.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Banks in Hong Kong including HSBC Holdings, its unit Hang Seng Bank and Bank of East Asia have stopped approving some mortgages for properties being developed by embattled China Evergrande Group in the city, four people familiar with the decisions say.

Standard Chartered and Bank of China's Hong Kong unit also are declining to offer new home loans for unfinished Evergrande properties, according to one of the sources. The halt comes as concerns rise over Evergrande's liquidity and its ability to meet debt payments, they said.

A Chinese court has frozen a $20 million Evergrande bank deposit. Authorities in a city suspended the sales of two of the company's projects in the mainland, sending the developer's shares to a four-year low.

Approved mortgages will be honored, one source said, and the lender this person works for will reevaluate loan applications once Evergrande completes the projects. Evergrande has two projects under construction in the city that are scheduled to close in August and October.

Evergrande, in a statement, said projects in Hong Kong are progressing as "originally planned."

"There are still other banks maintaining a positive attitude towards mortgages on uncompleted properties, so the impact is believed to be relatively minor," the company said.

The developer said it will consider letting buyers delay transactions by 60 days if they are impacted.

Regarding the mortgage applications for Evergrande's projects in Hong Kong, "the approved applications will not be affected," Bank of East Asia said. The bank said it also continues to accept applications for these projects on a first legal charge basis, in which the lender takes precedence above all others.

HSBC declined to comment. Representatives for Hang Seng did not have an immediate comment. Emails sent to Bank of China Hong Kong remained unanswered.

The moves by Hong Kong's largest mortgage lenders deepen the woes faced by Evergrande, the world's most indebted developer. The company since May has tried to quell mounting concerns over its financial health.

Some of its affiliates missed payments earlier this year, and financial magazine Caixin said authorities are probing Evergrande founder Hui Ka Yan's relationship with Shengjing Bank. Evergrande holds a 36% stake in the bank, and Caixin said the bank lent up to $20 billion to Evergrande via direct and indirect channels.

The report sparked fresh worries over the company's ability to pull off a plan to cut debt by half before the end of 2022. Bloomberg also reported that Chinese banks are limiting their exposure to the developer.

Under its turnaround plan dubbed "high growth, scale control and debt reduction,'' Evergrande cut total borrowings to 716.5 billion yuan ($110 billion) by the end of last year from a peak of 875 billion yuan in March 2020, according to the developer's annual report. It targets a further cut of 150 billion yuan this year.

To raise the funds, Evergrande has resorted to heavy discounts on its newly built properties to boost sales. In addition, between March and December 2020, the company raised almost $11.5 billion by selling its own equity as well as stakes in its property services, electric vehicle and other units.

In March, Evergrande raised $2.1 billion from the sale of a 10% stake in its online home and car sales unit ahead of a planned listing. Last month, the company agreed to sell holdings worth $570 million in its internet unit HengTen Networks and $386 million in property unit China Calxon Group.

The company board is scheduled to meet on July 27 to discuss a special dividend.

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