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By Tom Arnold and Kirstin Ridley
LONDON (Reuters) - A group of China Evergrande Group bondholders has selected investment bank Moelis & Co and law firm Kirkland & Ellis as advisers on a potential restructuring of a tranche of bonds, two sources close to the matter said.
The advice focuses on around $20 billion in outstanding offshore bonds in the event of non-payment, one of the sources said.
Uncertainty about Evergrande's ability to meet funding obligations has sent jitters through markets, as one of the world's most indebted property developers teeters between a messy meltdown, a managed collapse or a more remote prospect of a bailout.
Evergrande has been hit by recent ratings downgrades, with both S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings warning of the risk of default, while a main Evergrande unit applied on Thursday to suspend trading of its onshore corporate bonds https://www.reuters.com/business/china-evergrande-applies-bond-trading-suspension-after-downgrade-2021-09-16 in a move indicating a rising likelihood of defaults and restructuring, market participants said.
Fitch Ratings has estimated that it faces bond interest payments of $129 million before the end of September and $850 million before the end of the year.
Nevertheless, hopes of securing a restructuring helped boost Evergrande's bonds, which hit close to 30 cents on the dollar on Thursday, with the March 2022 issue rising the most, up 2.5 cents, Refinitiv data showed. "The bonds are rallying pretty hard," said one Evergrande holder. "People are buying blocs, so seems like it's institutional (demand) rather than just retail."
Evergrande Group, saddled with more than $300 billion in total liabilities - equivalent to 2% of China's GDP - is in the throes of a liquidity crisis that has sent it scrambling to raise funds to pay its many lenders and suppliers.
Financial markets have priced in likely defaults on its bond payments and expectations are high that its assets will have to be restructured.
(Additional reporting by Marc Jones and Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Mark Potter)