Ex-Evergrande Economist Says Firm Ignored His Warnings Over Debt
(Bloomberg) -- China Evergrande Group’s former chief economist said the embattled developer ignored his repeated warnings to reduce debt and halt its plans to diversify into new businesses.
Ren Zeping, one of the highest-paid economists in China who left Evergrande earlier this year, said he was often criticized internally for his suggestions, according to a post on his Wechat social media account. Ren’s post followed other social media comments suggesting he was part of the decision making that led to Evergrande’s deepening crisis.
“When I joined, I advised debt reduction and opposed diversification, face-to-face to several highest-ranking executives,” Ren said Monday. “But my suggestion got me severely criticized in an executive meeting later, and the criticism lasted a long time. I was told I was ‘lacking ambition’ and ‘not recognizing a major company strategy’.”
Ren and Evergrande didn’t respond to requests seeking comment.
Ren drew public attention when he joined Evergrande in late 2017 with an annual salary of about 15 million yuan ($2.3 million), according to local media reports. Some Chinese developers started in-house research arms around that time to navigate swiftly changing property policies and help devise long-term strategy.
After he came on board, Evergrande’s liabilities-to-assets ratio, a measure of leverage, rose sharply to 86.3%, he said in the post. Several months later, the economist cautioned in an internal report that defusing risks is the first and foremost priority of the Chinese government over the next three years, and that no company should bet on a policy shift.
Ren joined Evergrande during its heyday, when the developer topped the property sector by sales and was one of the best performing stocks on the MSCI China index. Before his Evergrande tenure, the macro economist was one of the few China watchers to correctly call the nation’s stock boom-and-bust cycle in 2015. He also made his name among retail investors by predicting in 2015 that home prices in tier-one cities would double within a decade.
Evergrande, already the world’s most-indebted developer at the time, then made several moves to add to its debt pile, including a 130 billion yuan fund-raising round from strategic investors that contributed to a cash crunch late last year. In 2017, it branched out into electric vehicles, eventually pledging to take on Elon Musk and Tesla Inc. to become the biggest EV manufacturer.
In an attempt to distance himself from these strategies, the economist said he spent most of his time in Beijing, far from Evergrande’s headquarters in the southern city of Shenzhen, and wasn’t involved in the company’s key decision making.
Ren used to be a researcher at the State Council’s Development Research Center before working as an economist at Guotai Junan Securities Co. and Founder Securities Co. He left Evergrande for Soochow Securities Co.
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