China Says Huarong Operations Are Normal, Liquidity Ample

China’s financial regulator said operations at China Huarong Asset Management Co. are normal and the company has ample liquidity, marking the first official comments aimed at easing investor concerns over the financial health of the nation’s largest bad-debt manager.

The state-owned company is actively cooperating with its auditor and will complete its annual report as soon as possible, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission said in a statement. Huarong’s dollar bonds climbed, extending their rally from record lows on Thursday.

A dearth of communication from Huarong and regulators on the company’s plight has unnerved investors who are seeking more details on its finances, its overhaul plans and its level of support from Beijing.

Huarong, which owes $42 billion to local and offshore bondholders, jolted Asian credit markets after failing to meet a March deadline for releasing its 2020 earnings. The company was already under a shadow after its former chairman, Lai Xiaomin, was executed earlier this year after being found guilty of bribery. Under his leadership, Huarong expanded into areas including securities trading and trusts in a significant shift away from the company’s original mandate of helping banks dispose of bad debt.

Huarong said earlier this week it had “adequate” liquidity and has repaid all bonds that matured on time, yet the company has declined to comment on its plans for future payments. The lack of clarity has fueled investor concerns about the potential for a debt restructuring that would be China’s most consequential since the late 1990s.

China Says Huarong Operations Are Normal, Liquidity Ample

Huarong’s dollar bond maturing in November climbed 4.3 cents on the dollar to 82.6 cents as of 5:35 p.m. in Hong Kong. Its yield, which approached 100% on Thursday, fell to 39%.

The company’s offshore bonds began rebounding on Thursday, after reports that Huarong had funds for a full repayment of a S$600 million ($450 million) offshore note due April 27. The company’s onshore securities unit has wired funds to repay a local bond maturing Sunday, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

Huarong and its subsidiaries need to repay or refinance some $7.4 billion of local and offshore bonds this year. The company counts Warburg Pincus, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund among its shareholders, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The stock has dropped 67% since its 2015 listing in Hong Kong and has been halted from trading since the start of April.

Hu Jianzhong, chief supervisor at Huarong, said at an event in Beijing on Friday that China will see more difficulties in bad-asset disposal market over the next three to five years as the volume rises and prices fall. Hu didn’t mention Huarong’s debt situation in the speech and declined to comment on the company’s bond repayment plan or the timing for its annual report on the sidelines of the event.

The nation’s distressed loan managers are facing mounting pressure as the pandemic has made it harder to dispose of assets, according to a closely watched survey by China Orient Asset Management Co. released on Friday.

Increasing credit losses at the managers themselves threaten to hurt profits and have adverse impact on their capital strength over the long term, China Orient, one the nation’s four state-owned bad-debt managers, said in the report. It also warned of growing difficulties with maturity mismatches as the companies’ liabilities are mostly short-term.

Financial Industry

Separately, China’s regulator said on Friday that the country’s banks saw their non-performing loans climb to 3.6 trillion yuan ($552 billion) as of March 31, up 118.3 billion yuan from the end of 2020. The NPL ratio eased to 1.89%, 0.02 percentage point lower than at the end of 2020.

With the coronavirus largely contained and the economy rebounding, Chinese policy makers have renewed a campaign to restrain leverage and curb risks, especially in the closely managed financial and real estate sectors. Last year’s stimulus pushed debt to almost 280% of annual economic output.

The central bank last month asked major lenders to curtail loan growth for the rest of this year after a surge in the first two months stoked bubble risks, people familiar with the matter have said.

The economy accumulated much of its record debt pile after the global financial crisis, when it binged on credit to avoid the economic slumps ravaging the West. Efforts in 2017 to restrain debt growth, especially in the shadow-banking industry, led to higher money-market rates and a slump in government bonds.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.