Missed payments from Zhongrong International Trust and Country Garden – a provider of financial products and a real estate developer, respectively – are serious developments in a country already wrestling with slowing growth and cooling relations with the West.
Missed payments at a major Chinese real estate group and a large trust company have jolted markets. Investors fear that the world’s second-largest economy, already weighed by slowing growth and the aftermath of harsh anti-pandemic measures, could implode. Reports said authorities have encouraged fund houses to buy their own equity-focused products.
Bank of Singapore yesterday said that the plight of Zhongrong International Trust – which has missed a set of payments – and Country Garden, the developer, were reasons for caution rather than panic. The Singapore-headquartered private bank said Beijing must act “decisively to avoid contagion risk.”
Attention has been increasingly focused on the amount of leverage in China’s financial and real estate system – both closely related – in recent years. In late 2021, Evergrande, a large Chinese developer, was declared to be in default.
Amid years of hectic growth, there have been regular warnings about cracks in the Chinese financial system, such as the market for so-called wealth management products. Also, when China’s President Xi launched a crackdown on sectors such as private sector schooling, video gaming and IT, it alarmed international investors fearful that economic growth was being sidelined for political reasons. Tensions between China and the West over trade policy, alleged Chinese theft of intellectual property in the West, clashes with India, and China’s oft-stated claims to Taiwan, have also added to nerves.
Worries that China might have its own version of Japan’s property
market slump of the late 1980s, or the US sub-prime mortgage
debacle of 2008, have hit markets. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index
has fallen 12.5 per cent since the start of January. By contrast,
the US S&P 500 index has risen 14.7 per cent. In the past few
days, market falls have reflected concerns about China.
As reported by Bloomberg and other media on Monday, China’s largest mutual fund houses promised to buy their own equity-focused products, heeding calls from authorities to bolster the market as a selloff continues. At least 14 firms pledged to invest in their funds as of mid-Monday, taking the total tally to RMB870 million ($119 million).