Hong Kong Court Orders China Evergrande’s Winding-Up, Signaling a New Phase for the World’s Most Indebted Property Developer

HONG KONG – In a significant development, a Hong Kong court has issued a winding-up order against China Evergrande, the world’s most indebted property developer. This decision marks a new and unpredictable phase in the company’s collapse, more than two years after its official default. Evergrande’s failure to come up with a restructuring plan that would satisfy international creditors during lengthy negotiations led to the court order. High Court Judge Linda Chan stated that it was appropriate for the court to make the winding-up order due to the absence of a viable proposal.

The liquidation order holds implications for the reach of Hong Kong courts in mainland China, where foreign claims are seen to carry little weight. It also poses a major political challenge for Beijing, as the property slowdown continues. Although Evergrande is listed in Hong Kong, the majority of its assets and liabilities, totaling over $300 billion, are in China. So far, Chinese authorities have prioritized the completion of unfinished projects by developers.

The court has appointed Eddie Middleton and Tiffany Wong from the restructuring firm Alvarez & Marsal as Evergrande’s liquidators. They will start by meeting with management to gain a better understanding of the company’s affairs and discuss the next steps. Judge Chan’s decision to order the winding-up could potentially lead to further lawsuits related to the massive losses incurred from Evergrande’s collapse.

Soon after the court ruling, trading in the Hong Kong-listed shares of Evergrande and two of its subsidiaries was halted. Chinese media reported that the company’s chief, Shawn Siu, expressed the commitment to continue delivering property development projects in China and indicated that the court order would not affect the operational structure of its onshore and offshore subsidiaries.

However, it remains uncertain how mainland Chinese courts will view the Hong Kong winding-up order. The ruling could pave the way for liquidators to seek control over some of Evergrande’s assets in mainland China, depending on the extent to which mainland courts accept the order.

While offshore creditors may have limited options, the wind-up order is expected to lead to a lengthy and costly process with minimal chances of significant recoveries. This conclusion was highlighted by Brock Silvers, chief investment officer of Hong Kong private equity group Kaiyuan Capital.

The ruling against Evergrande could also have implications for other developers still engaged in protracted restructuring negotiations with offshore creditors. Last year, Jiayuan, another Chinese developer, received a winding-up order from the same judge.

The trading halt and the distressing outcome of the court order caused Evergrande’s shares to plummet by over 20% and its outstanding dollar bonds to trade at deeply distressed levels. This follows the previous failure of a deal between Evergrande and international investors, which fell apart due to the lack of regulatory approvals from Chinese authorities. In September 2022, the company’s chairman, Hui Ka Yan, faced “mandatory measures” by authorities on suspicion of “illegal crimes.”

Considering the magnitude of Evergrande’s collapse and the global implications, this winding-up order highlights the challenges faced by one of China’s largest property developers. The fallout from this decision will undoubtedly reverberate throughout the industry and financial markets.