China’s Country Garden Buys Time to Repay Debt—but Not Long - Kanebridge News
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China’s Country Garden Buys Time to Repay Debt—but Not Long

The property giant has a second chance to make an interest payment this week

By CAO LI
Tue, Sep 5, 2023 7:49amGrey Clock 3 min

HONG KONG—China’s top surviving private developer bought more time to sort out its liquidity problems, giving investors hope that it will cobble together enough cash to avoid defaulting on its U.S. dollar bonds this week.

Country Garden Holdings on Friday said it got approval from investors in mainland China to extend the maturity date of $537 million in domestic bonds by three years. The yuan-denominated debt was originally due Monday. An offshore unit of the 31-year-old property giant separately made an interest payment of around $600,000 on a bond denominated in Malaysian ringgit on Monday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The debt extension and bond payment created optimism that Country Garden can address a debt load that includes a range of foreign currency bonds—and a make-or-break interest payment this week.

The developer’s Hong Kong-listed shares jumped 15% on Monday, closing at their highest level in about three weeks. Other Chinese property stocks also gained, while the broader Hang Seng Index rose 2.5%.

Country Garden’s bond prices also edged higher, although most of its dollar bonds remained below 10 cents on the dollar, levels that indicate a high probability of default.

Chinese authorities have taken more steps in recent days to shore up the country’s beleaguered housing market, where sales have declined for most of the last two years. Last Thursday, the People’s Bank of China lowered minimum down payments on first and second home purchases and told banks they can lower the rates on existing mortgages. Regulators also recently expanded the definition of a first-time home buyer, a category that comes with lower mortgage rates and smaller down payments.

The rule changes helped to draw more people to real estate showrooms over the weekend. Demand for new homes in Shanghai increased noticeably after the new measures were implemented, according to Chen Julan, a senior analyst with China Index Academy. In Beijing, some developers withdrew discounts and adjusted their prices slightly higher, the research firm said.

The new rules could give a temporary boost to home sales in about a dozen major cities, said Song Hongwei, a research director of Tongce Research Institute, which tracks and analyses China’s real-estate market. He said lower-tier, poorer cities may not reap similar benefits and predicted that the overall housing market will eventually weaken again.

Country Garden’s recent cash crunch has largely been a result of slumping home sales in many parts of China. The company is one of the biggest surviving privately run developers and has a large presence in the country’s poorer regions. In August, it sold homes valued at a total of around $1.1 billion, almost three-quarters lower than a year earlier.

The company missed $22.5 million in coupon payments on bonds with a total face value of $1 billion in early August, and has a 30-day grace period to come up with the money. That grace period expires this week.

Even if it does pay the interest on its dollar bonds this week, it has many more coupon payments due in the coming months. Investors are skeptical that it can avoid default—unless its sales start growing again. Country Garden’s most recent financial report said that as of June 30, it had the equivalent of $15 billion in bonds, bank debt and other borrowings due within a year.

The company lost more than $7 billion in the first half of 2023, its worst financial performance since it went public in 2007, after its contracted sales for the period shrank 30%. Country Garden told investors it was “deeply remorseful” but said it was committed to turning things around.

China’s economy has struggled through much of this year, with falling exports, weak manufacturing and a slowdown in consumer spending all pointing to problems broader than a property slowdown. But cracks in the property sector, which was once seen as a major source of wealth creation in China, are exacerbating the broader economic malaise.

Chinese property developers’ falling property margins and weak sales will weigh on earnings until the end of next year, according to analysts at S&P Global Ratings. Not all developers will feel the same degree of pain. Those with links to the government or with good access to financing are better positioned to endure the fall in margins, the S&P analysts said in a note on Monday.



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”