Asset managers have varied views on Evergrande

Shannon Kirwin , fund analyst with Morningstar, highlights how the views of asset managers makes a difference in active fund management.
By Morningstar |  01-10-21 | 
 

Troubled Chinese real estate developer Evergrande Group teeters on the brink of what could become China’s largest-ever debt restructuring. You can read 4 questions on Evergrande answered to understand the situation.

Away from the initial panic, several emerging markets debt fund managers expressed more nuanced views of both Evergrande itself and the likely fallout of a potential Evergrande default.

The Bears

Pimco

Pimco’s global emerging markets debt group, headed by Pramol Dhawan, grew increasingly wary of Evergrande’s risks over the past two years.

Still, the team is optimistic about the Chinese real estate sector’s long-term prospects, noting that housing demand in the country remains robust. As other sellers rush to offload the bonds of Chinese developers, Pimco’s managers say they are now looking for opportunities to invest in those that have manageable debt loads and that are active in China’s more stable coastal and urban housing markets.

Barings

Barings’ emerging markets debt team has not had Evergrande on its buy list for several years. They prefer companies that they think have diversified sources of funding, access to international capital markets, and strong track records. While they have not avoided the Chinese real estate sector as a whole, they preferred to focus on companies benefiting from specific catalysts such as rental/recurring income or participation in urban renewal projects.

The team believes the Chinese government will seek to ensure an orderly restructuring of Evergrande, helping to calm markets – but it believes that offshore investors in the company’s USD-denominated bonds will be served last after homeowners, suppliers, and onshore creditors have been compensated. Ultimately, the team expects recent Chinese government policies aimed at reducing debt in the real estate sector to result in greater industry consolidation, with stronger, larger developers becoming more dominant as weaker, smaller developers eventually exit the sector.

They don’t expect current events to result in longer-term losses for the Asian high-yield bond market, but they are bracing for some short-term discomfort. They expect some Asian borrowers to be shunned by international capital markets while uncertainty around Evergrande persists.

T. Rowe Price

In recent years, T. Rowe Price’s emerging markets debt team was cautious on Evergrande’s bonds but dabbled in the debt when valuations turned enticing. Lead portfolio manager Samy Muaddi held no Evergrande debt in his funds at the start of 2020 but bought a modest amount at cheap valuations after the coronavirus-driven sell-off late in the first quarter of 2020. Roughly six months later, the team sold its remaining position, as the analysts grew wary of Evergrande’s ability to maintain onshore financing.

Despite a negative outlook on Evergrande specifically, Muaddi and his team have incrementally added to China property names that appear more fundamentally sound but have sold off excessively given Evergrande-motivated headlines. This investment cohort believes that Chinese regulators will tolerate the impending Evergrande default as a “controlled detonation.” The group considers the deleveraging of the Chinese property sector more broadly a positive development for future investments there.

HSBC

Alfred Mui, HSBC’s head of Asian credit, has viewed Evergrande with caution. Mui’s team fully exited its Evergrande stake in early September, commenting that the company’s push to raise cash by disposing of assets faces logistical hurdles, while its ability to generate revenue through its regular business lines could be stymied by liquidity challenges.

Though HSBC’s analysts don’t think the firm is in danger of losing the support of Chinese banks, they expect Evergrande to undergo a multiyear debt restructuring, which they say will likely favour local investors over international creditors, making the recovery value for its dollar-denominated bonds too low to be worth the costs of involvement. Still, Mui’s team remains upbeat about the Chinese real estate sector as a whole. The team notes that the current market dislocation has pushed yields into the double digits on 40% of all bonds issued by below investment-grade Chinese property developers, a unique opportunity for bottom-up-driven bond-pickers to find value.

Meanwhile, they expect the Chinese government to slow its monetary tightening push in the systemically important real estate sector in light of the Chinese economy’s slowing growth momentum, providing additional support to the market segment. Still, the team points out that Evergrande is not the only overleveraged Chinese property developer in the market and will likely not be the last to face insolvency. The team cautioned that the Asian banking sector, which is significantly exposed to the real estate sector, could encounter pitfalls ahead.

TCW

TCW’s emerging markets fixed-income team started 2020 with a more constructive view of Evergrande than peers, but it grew concerned and trimmed its positions throughout 2020 and the first half of 2021, and fully exited it by August 2021. By August 2021, the team was convinced Evergrande would likely need a comprehensive debt restructuring, noting that there isn’t a clear precedent for a massive $304 billion restructuring that would involve hundreds of projects. TCW is waiting for the Evergrande situation to stabilise before moving into select higher-quality (investment-grade and higher-quality high-yield) Chinese property developers that sold off in contagion.

The Bulls

BlackRock

When prices for Evergrande’s bonds plummeted in August and September, BlackRock’s emerging markets debt team, led by Sergio Trigo Paz, saw an opportunity. The team has maintained a cautious stance toward Chinese government and corporate debt, reflected in underweightings in the country across its strategies, since the start of 2021. Nonetheless, as Evergrande’s bonds reached distressed levels in mid-September, the group added the company’s debt to five of its strategies. The team argues that, with Evergrande’s chances of a distressed exchange or takeover by a state-owned company considerable, the recovery value of the bonds is likely to exceed their current price of roughly 30 cents on the dollar.

BlackRock’s head of Asian fixed income Neeraj Seth and his comanagers at Asian Tiger Bond are likely less satisfied with their timing. As Chinese economic growth picked up in late 2020 and early 2021, Asian Tiger Bond’s managers boosted their exposure to high-yield Chinese issuers, including an overweighting in Evergrande. This exposure detracted from the fund’s performance in the first seven months of 2021, but undeterred, Seth and his colleagues further boosted their Evergrande exposure in August 2021 as prices fell; at the end of that month, the fund held 0.82% in the company, compared with the benchmark’s 0.47%.

UBS

UBS is one of the larger holders of Evergrande debt, particularly in its Taiwan-domiciled fixed-term bond funds and the Asian high-yield portfolios. Total exposure to China Evergrande debt totaled $283 million across multiple UBS portfolios (based on portfolio data ranging from June to August 2021).

As the issuer’s struggles came to light, the investment team opted for lower exposure in its actively managed funds but has decided to keep exposures unchanged in its fixed-term bond funds, arguing that the bonds are now trading at or below typical historical recovery values. The team is confident that construction activity will resume and that government intervention, while not necessarily resulting in a full bailout, should be sufficient to allow Evergrande to continue operating. The managers also believe that this credit event should remain relatively contained, with no significant spill-over effects on the broader Asian high-yield market.

Ashmore

London-based emerging markets giant Ashmore Group remains one of the largest holders of Evergrande bonds, with $146 million held across several portfolios (based on portfolio data collected by Morningstar from June to August 2021).

The team sees the recent extension of an interest payment deadline for Evergrande by China’s top regulator as a sign that an orderly debt restructuring is a more likely outcome than liquidation. The firm expect some level of market contagion but is still not very concerned about a domino effect on the overall Chinese real estate market. It also doesn’t expect that China’s regulatory tightening within the real estate sector (that is, the introduction of the “three red lines policy”) will create difficulties for less indebted Chinese issuers.

Bold bets are not unusual given the team’s aggressive investment style. Country exposures in the team’s funds tend to deviate significantly from the index, and the team has historically dabbled in distressed debts such as Argentina and Venezuela, with mixed success.

BlueBay Asset Management

BlueBay Asset Management continues to own China Evergrande in several portfolios. The team believes that current pricing for these bonds fully reflects the default probability, and it has thus gradually started adding China Evergrande exposure to the portfolios. The team also believes that weaker local credits like Guangzhou R&F and CENCHI are likely to come under further stress owing to tight financing conditions, but it believes other high-yield names such as Kaisa, Zhenro, and Agile remain well-supported. The team is ready to add back to some of these issuers as soon as the managers see signs of market stabilization.

Read the original report in more detail.

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ninan joseph
Oct 3 2021 04:20 PM
 Would like to know say by June of 2021 when the common man/countries other than china never heard of this name Evergrande, what was the rating given to this company by the rating agencies.

With regard to Bulls as I have no idea of the below mentioned Asset management, I would like to know the following:-

Blackrock, UBS and Ashmore - When you say these fund houses had invested in Evergrande in large amounts, why did they not try to trim down when they knew that Evergrande had huge debts. I am sure these fund houses would be monitoring these stocks with the brightest of mind in the market. A company of this size cannot go bad in a week time, this is what puzzling me, it takes them years to accumulate loans and arent the analyst monitoring them. UBS seems to be the most common factor - they got hit by archegos and were the last of the institution who tried to sell the shares like the american banks did to recover a portion of the debt in the case of archegos.

I can understand everything was normal to the layman one year ago, but I am sure, the analyst who were monitoring these company who had invested people money would be reviewing these companies on a regular basis and why in the world did these AMC reduce their exposure to his highly indebteded company.

It makes me feel that these AMC are as equal to a retail investor with regard to market intelligence and analysis. All they know is put data on a excel and extrapolate them into growth numbers.

Sad, someone would have lost or will lose their money on these companies. I can still understand, if as a retail investor, I take a call and invest in these company, but AMC investing (other than hedge funds or funds who take these punts) these is surprising. On a daily basis losing faith on AMC and their role.

Reminds me of FT in India investing liquid funds proceeds to Vodaphone Idea when this company was in losses for the last several years......
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