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China Huarong’s Journey From Safe Bet to Bad News: A Timeline

·7 min read

(Bloomberg) -- The turbulence surrounding China Huarong Asset Management Co. is in its third month, and the questions seem to mount.

At the end of March, its 4% perpetual dollar bond was trading at 102 cents on the dollar as investors figured the January execution of former Chairman Lai Xiaomin for bribery put a line under past wayward behavior. But China Huarong’s failure to release 2020 results by a March 31 deadline, and a subsequent report by mainland media Caixin that the firm will restructure, sparked weeks of turmoil. The same bond is now at 64 cents.

The heart of the matter is whether the central government will rescue a state-owned company that’s integral to the smooth running of the financial system. While there are signs Beijing wants to ensure China Huarong can repay its debts on time, uncertainty prevails.

Here’s a look at the key events for China Huarong:

June 11

Unit Huarong Jinshang Asset Management Co. has transferred funds to repay a 1 billion yuan ($156 million) local bond maturing June 15. It would be the latest debt obligation met by China Huarong.

June 4

China Huarong has appointed Liang Qiang as deputy party secretary, paving the way for the industry veteran to become its president. He was recently named president at fellow state-run bad bank China Great Wall Asset Management Co.

June 2

S&P Global Ratings continues to weigh a potential downgrade of China Huarong, more than a month after Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings cut their grades on the firm.

June 1

China’s finance ministry is considering transferring its shares in China Huarong and three other bad-debt managers to a new holding company modeled after the one that owns the government’s stakes in state-run banks. Spreads on the three peers’ dollar bonds subsequently widen, also as two of the firms have told China’s banking regulator they’re concerned about losing access to the dollar bond market in the wake of Huarong’s turmoil.

May 28

China Huarong has wired funds to repay $978 million of notes maturing within the following week, Bloomberg News reports, the biggest bond payments since the 2020 results delay.

May 24

China Huarong dollar bonds climb after the managing editor of Caixin Media wrote in an opinion piece that the asset manager is “nowhere near” defaulting on its more than $20 billion of offshore notes.

May 21

Some of China Huarong’s thinly traded onshore bonds slump after having held up better than the company’s dollar-denominated notes, signaling broadening concern about the firm’s financial health.

May 18

China Huarong has transferred funds to repay a $300 million note maturing May 20, Bloomberg News reports, the first dollar bond to come due since the delayed 2020 results. Prices for the firm’s dollar bonds slump earlier in the day after the New York Times reports China is planning an overhaul that would inflict “significant losses” on both domestic and foreign China Huarong bondholders.

May 17

The company has reached funding agreements with state-owned banks to ensure it can repay debt through at least the end of August, by which time China Huarong aims to have completed its 2020 financial statements, according to a Bloomberg News report. That as at least two of its onshore bonds see big price declines in recent days, worrying some investors.

May 13

The firm says it’s prepared to make future bond payments and has seen no change in the level of government support, seeking to ease investor concerns after a local media report that regulators balked at China Huarong’s restructuring plan.

May 6

The company says it transferred funds to pay five offshore bond coupons due the following day, its latest move to meet debt obligations amid persistent doubts about its financial health.

April 30

China Huarong breaks its silence, with an executive telling media it is prepared to make its bond payments and state backing remains intact. The official also says the week’s rating downgrades “have no factual basis” and are “too pessimistic.”

April 29

Moody’s downgrades China Huarong by one notch to Baa1 and keeps the firm on watch for further reduction. The cut reflects the company’s weakened funding ability due to market volatility and increased uncertainty over its future, according to the statement.

April 27

China Huarong units repay bonds maturing that day. The S$600 million ($452 million) bond was repaid with funds provided by China’s biggest state-owned bank, according to a Bloomberg News report.

April 26

Fitch downgrades China Huarong by three notches to BBB while dropping the company’s perpetual bonds into junk territory. The lack of transparency over government support for the firm may hamper its ability to refinance debt in offshore markets, Fitch said.

April 25

China Huarong says it won’t meet an April 30 deadline to file its 2020 report with Hong Kong’s stock exchange because auditors needed more time to finalize a transaction the company first flagged on April 1. Securities and asset-management units said in the days before that they wouldn’t release 2020 results by month’s end.

April 22

The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission asks lenders to extend China Huarong’s upcoming loans by at least six months, according to REDD, citing two bankers from large Chinese commercial lenders.

April 21

China is considering a plan that would see its central bank assume more than 100 billion yuan of China Huarong assets to help clean up the firm’s balance sheet, according to a Bloomberg News report. Peer China Cinda Asset Management Co. was said to be planning the sale of perpetual bonds in the second quarter.

April 20

China Huarong’s key offshore financing unit says it returned to profitability in the first quarter and laid a “solid” foundation for transformation. Reorg Research reports that regulators are considering options including a debt restructuring of the unit, China Huarong International Holdings Ltd.

April 19

Huarong Securities Co. says it wired funds to repay a 2.5 billion yuan local note.

April 16

The CBIRC says China Huarong’s operations are normal and that the firm has ample liquidity. These are the first official comments about the company’s troubles. Reuters reports Chinese banks have been asked not to withhold loans to Huarong.

April 13

Fitch and Moody’s both put the company on watch for downgrade. The finance ministry, which owns a majority of Huarong, is considering the transfer of its stake to a unit of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, Bloomberg News reports. Chinese officials signal they want failing local government financing vehicles to restructure or go bust if debts can’t be repaid.

April 9

China Huarong says it has been making debt payments “on time” and its operations are “normal.” Bloomberg News reports the company intends to keep Huarong International as part of a potential overhaul that would avoid the need of a debt restructuring or government recapitalization. S&P puts China Huarong’s credit ratings on watch for possible downgrade.

April 8

China Huarong is preparing to offload non-core and loss-making units as part of a broad plan to revive profitability that would avoid the need for a debt restructuring or government recapitalization, Bloomberg News reports.

April 6

Selling gains steam in China Huarong’s dollar bonds, following a holiday in China. Huarong Securities says there has been no major change to its operations, in response to a price plunge for its 3 billion yuan local bond.

April 1

China Huarong announces a delay in releasing 2020 results, saying its auditor is unable to finalize a transaction. Stock trading is suspended and spreads jump on the firm’s dollar bonds while China Huarong tells investors its business is running as usual. Caixin reports the company submitted restructuring and other major reform plans to government officials and shareholders.

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