Evergrande crisis: Chinese developer hiring more legal advisers to tackle debt

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China Evergrande Group, US restructuring experts Houlihan Lokey

China Evergrande Group said it was hiring more financial and legal advisers to deal with creditors’ demands, after a group of offshore bondholders warned of enforcement action, taking it a step forward in resolving its debt issues.

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The embattled developer, struggling with 1.97 trillion yuan (US$305 billion) of liabilities, said in an exchange filing on Friday that it was seeking to hire China International Capital Corp and BOCI Asia as financial advisers, and Zhong Lun Law Firm as legal adviser.

“In view of the operational and financial challenges the group is facing and in particular, the debt stress it is experiencing,” Evergrande said it plans to hire more professionals to “assist the company in mitigating and eliminating the risks relating to its debts and following up with demands from the creditors”.

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The move comes after a group of offshore bondholders, represented by law firm Kirkland & Ellis and investment bank Moelis, said on Thursday that Evergrande had failed to substantially engage with it on restructuring efforts.

The creditors warned the company that they would “seriously consider enforcement actions” to protect their interests and want to be consulted before any further assets are sold.

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They said they had “seen no substantive engagement with offshore creditors to formulate a viable restructuring plan of [Evergrande’s] offshore indebtedness for the benefit of all stakeholders” or “with the group’s creditors in order to mitigate the group’s risk and protect the legitimate interest of the parties”.

In September, Evergrande had appointed US restructuring experts Houlihan Lokey and Hong Kong-based investment bank Admiralty Harbour Capital to assess its capital structure after the property firm failed to pay investors who subscribed to its high yield wealth management products.

The company subsequently set up a risk management committee in December, saying it would actively engage with creditors to formulate a viable restructuring plan.

The developer then successfully extended a deadline of yuan-denominated notes after talks with the onshore bondholders in January.

However, US dollar bondholders have been irked by Evergrande’s approach to its offshore debts.

“The group’s lack of engagement and opaque decision-making to date is contrary to well established international standards in restructuring processes of this magnitude,” the creditors said in the letter on Thursday.

Evergrande was downgraded to “restricted default” by Fitch in December, after it missed interest payments on dollar bonds.

It has at least US$186.1 million in offshore bond payments due this month, US$2 billion in March and US$1.045 billion in April.

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