China Huarong Silence on Overhaul Plan Frays Investor Nerves
Investors troubled by China Huarong Asset Management Co.’s public silence on details of its overhaul plan are looking ahead to key events that could provide clarity about the state of its finances.
First up: Can the state-owned company make good on its looming debt payments? China Huarong’s securities unit has a 2.5 billion yuan ($383 million) bond due Sunday, while two other related bonds worth the equivalent of $590 million combined mature April 27, Bloomberg-compiled data show.
Reports that China Huarong has prepared funds to fully repay its Singapore dollar note triggered a rally in the company’s overseas bonds on Thursday. A spokesperson said the main offshore arm of China Huarong “will continue its stable and compliant operations based on new business development plan.”
Click to read why Citigroup analysts recommend buying Huarong bonds
The distressed-asset manager isn’t exactly flush with free cash, according to its interim report. It had the equivalent of $3.4 billion worth of deposits at the central bank as of June 30, largely held in mandatory reserves. Only $84 million was readily available for the group’s daily operations, the report shows.
“Investors need clarity,” said Thomas Wu, head of Asia fixed income at Pictet Wealth Management. “The information vacuum is weighing on the bonds and -- even if near-term default is avoided with repayment on the SGD note -- that doesn’t necessarily improve prospects for investors holding longer-dated bonds.”
|Key dates to watch|
With some $7.4 billion worth of bonds needing to be repaid or refinanced this year, the company and its subsidiaries will need to find new funds, and soon. The plunge in its dollar bonds makes raising cash in the offshore market highly unlikely for now. Some of its existing bonds fell to as low as 45 cents on the dollar Thursday, compared with 100 cents at the end of last month.
Another key question is when China Huarong will release earnings. Any announcement should shed some light on the company’s future plans, including a possible restructuring. Under Hong Kong exchange rules, China Huarong has until April 30 to publish its final report. The company failed to meet a March deadline for its preliminary results, which triggered a trading suspension for the shares.
In an emailed response to questions from Bloomberg, China Huarong this week said it has “adequate liquidity” and plans to announce the expected date of its 2020 earnings release after consulting with auditors.
China Huarong hasn’t made a regulatory statement on the health of its finances since early April, when it said its auditor needed more time to finalize an unspecified transaction. Executives told investors at the time that the firm didn’t want to cause confusion by publishing unaudited, preliminary results.
But silence has fueled concern. The firm’s investment-grade bonds have sunk to near distressed levels as investors consider worst-case scenarios. Adding to the nervousness is the fact that the country’s Ministry of Finance -- China Huarong’s largest shareholder -- has yet to pledge government support. This all in a company whose former chairman was executed earlier this year after being found guilty of accepting bribes.
There are other potential sources of insight coming up on Friday.
- Xiao Yuanqi, vice chairman of the banking and insurance regulator, will hold a 3 p.m. press conference in Beijing to discuss the industry’s first quarter performance.
- China Orient Asset Management Co., a smaller rival of Huarong, is scheduled to release its widely-watched annual report on the distressed asset industry. The report, based on a survey of bankers and other professionals, provides insight into current conditions and the industry’s outlook for the market. A Huarong senior executive is set to speak at an event to discuss the findings from 2 p.m. in Beijing, according to an invitation. There will be no video streaming of the event or phone dial-in.
- China’s 50-odd local bad-loan management firms are scheduled to convene with financial regulators in an annual closed-door meeting, according to a notice seen by Bloomberg.
Trading in China Huarong’s shares won’t resume until it it provides a financial update. In some extreme cases, Hong Kong’s stock exchange can cancel listings if shares are suspended for a prolonged period.
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