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Fresh Problem For Evergrande And Another Developer Teeters As China's Property Sector Enters A Dangerous January

A project being developed by Evergrande in the Chinese city of Yuanyang.

January is shaping up to be the roughest month yet of the crisis in China's real estate market.

The 13th-largest developer in the country, Shanghai Shimao Group, has lost 50% of its share value since November, seen its offshore bonds drop precipitously in value over the last month, and had its credit rating downgraded by S&P Global Ratings, Fitch and Moody's, Al Jazeera reports. Meanwhile, after defaulting in early December, China's Evergrande Group halted trading on its stock after being ordered to tear down an apartment complex it was building in the Hainan province, Bloomberg reports.

By the end of January, Chinese real estate companies will have about $197B in obligations to pay off, with over $170B of that promised to workers — a sum that, if not paid, poses a risk of social unrest, per Bloomberg. Much as with Evergrande, Shimao and Kaisa Group Holdings, which also defaulted in December, Chinese developers of all kinds are struggling to raise new funds in an environment that has seen investor confidence drop to historic lows.

Evergrande's order to demolish 39 buildings in Hainan in 10 days was issued Dec. 30, with the Hainan government citing illegally obtained building permits as the cause, Bloomberg reports. On their own, the buildings don't make up a large percentage of Evergrande's development pipeline, but illegal permitting is another reason for investors to balk at propping up Chinese developers.

Though Evergrande's December sales totals stabilized somewhat from a ghastly November, they still represented a 99% year-over-year decline, Bloomberg reports. Shimao also saw a 68% year-over-year sales drop in December, missing its lowered 2021 guidance by 7%. 

Shimao's struggles may be more distressing to analysts as a sign of the real estate industry's health in China, Al Jazeera reports. Unlike Evergrande, Shimao had not overleveraged its assets based on metrics laid out by the Chinese government. Its dropping value to investors comes from certain indicators there are underlying financial health problems that are not publicly known.

The company plans to sell some hotels and commercial properties to make bond payments over the next three months, but it has made some internal transactions between its development and management units that could be signs of Shimao attempting to prop up weaker business units, according to Al Jazeera.