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Ground shakes as Chinese development giant ordered by Hong Kong court to liquidate

Business

A Hong Kong court has ordered property developer China Evergrande Group to liquidate after it was unable to reach a restructuring deal with creditors.

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Judge Linda Chan said it was appropriate for the court to order Evergrande to wind up its business given a “lack of progress on the part of the company putting forward a viable restructuring proposal”, as well as Evergrande’s insolvency.

The liquidation order on Monday is likely to affect China’s financial system, even as authorities try to prevent a sell-off in the Chinese stock market.

Evergrande’s liquidation will likely also lessen confidence in the property sector, which has been slumping as developers struggle to meet their obligations following a crackdown on excessive borrowing in the sector.

Evergrande had been granted a brief reprieve in December after it said it was attempting to “refine” a new debt restructuring plan of more than $US300 billion ($A456 billion) in liabilities.

Fergus Saurin, a lawyer representing an ad hoc group of creditors, said he was not surprised by the outcome.

“The company has failed to engage with us. There has been a history of last-minute engagement which has gone nowhere,” he said.

Saurin said his team had been working in good faith in the entire process and that Evergrande “only has itself to blame for being wound up”.

The judge is expected to provide more reasons for the liquidation order during a separate court session Monday afternoon.

Evergrande, the world’s most indebted property developer, is one of many property firms that ran into trouble when Chinese regulators cracked down on excessive borrowing in the real estate sector.

The company first defaulted on its financial obligations in 2021, just more than a year after Beijing clamped down on lending to property developers in an effort to cool a property bubble.

It’s unclear how the liquidation order will affect Evergrande’s vast operations in the Chinese mainland.

As a former British colony, Hong Kong operates under a legal system that is separate, though increasingly influenced by, Communist-ruled China’s.

In some cases, mainland courts have recognised bankruptcy rulings in Hong Kong, but analysts say Evergrande’s is something of a test case.

Real estate drove China’s economic boom, but developers borrowed heavily as they turned cities into forests of apartment and office towers.

That has helped to push total corporate, government and household debt to the equivalent of more than 300 per cent of annual economic output, unusually high for a middle-income country.

Others developers including Country Garden, China’s largest real estate developer, have also run into trouble, their predicaments rippling through financial systems in and outside China.

Evergrande’s Hong Kong-listed shares plunged nearly 21 per cent before they were suspended from trading on Monday.

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