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The Evergrande Center building, in Shanghai, China, on Sept. 24, 2021.HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

China Evergrande Group on Thursday secured a crucial approval from onshore bondholders to delay payments on one of its bonds, as other cash-strapped developers also scrambled to negotiate new terms with creditors to avoid defaults.

Struggling with more than US$300-billion in liabilities, sector giant Evergrande was seeking more time for bond coupon and redemption payments to avoid a technical default that would have complicated its politically sensitive restructuring.

The deadline to vote on the six-month delay to payments of the 4.5 billion-yuan (US$157-million), 6.98 per cent January, 2023, bond ended earlier on Thursday. The bond terms gave holders the right to sell it back early to the issuer on Jan. 8.

In a statement late on Thursday, the developer’s main unit Hengda Real Estate Group said that it had reached an agreement with bondholders to delay payments.

Of those who voted, 72.3 per cent approved the proposal to extend the redemption and coupon payments, the statement said, adding that trading in the bond, suspended since Jan. 6, will resume on Monday.

Evergrande, the world’s most indebted property company, has so far met payments on onshore bonds that make up the vast majority of its debt, though it has defaulted on some offshore bonds.

Chinese developers are facing an unprecedented liquidity squeeze owing to years of regulatory curbs on borrowing, leading to a string of offshore debt defaults, credit-rating downgrades and sell-offs in developers’ shares and bonds.

The World Bank’s economic prospects report said earlier this week a severe and prolonged downturn in China’s real estate sector would have significant economywide reverberations, as its developers’ combined onshore and offshore liabilities amount to almost 30 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Shanghai-based Shimao Group will hold online meetings with creditors in two asset-backed securities (ABS) on Jan. 17, to vote on payment extension proposals, according to documents seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The two onshore ABS products – worth 1.17 billion yuan in total – mature later this month but Shimao is seeking to extend this to the end of 2022 while making some payments in stages before the new deadline.

Shimao last week said it has missed payment on a US$101-million trust loan. Rating agency S&P, which downgraded the firm again to “B-” this week, said on Thursday it has withdrawn the rating at the firm’s request.

Shimao’s onshore subsidiary Shanghai Shimao confirmed on Thursday evening it has transferred funds to repay its 4.65-per-cent-yuan bond with an outstanding principal of 1.9 billion yuan maturing on Saturday.

But the firm has yet to say anything on an offshore coupon payment worth US$28-million due on the same day. Shimao has another offshore coupon of US$13-million due on Sunday and an onshore coupon of 22.5 million yuan due next Wednesday.

Separately, Yuzhou Group, founded in the eastern coastal city of Xiamen, announced an exchange offer for two of its 2022 dollar bonds due later this month – worth a total of US$582-million – to extend the maturities by one year to avoid default.

It expects a delay in coupon payments totalling US$110-million that are due in January and February, Yuzhou said in a filing. It is also seeking consent from holders of all of its other US$4.5-billion in dollar-denominated bonds to amend the terms that would help it avoid cross defaults if other bondholders seek repayment.

Nomura estimates the sector’s cash crunch could intensify with firms needing to meet onshore and offshore maturities totalling around 210 billion yuan each in the first and second quarter, up from 191 billion yuan in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Developers are also desperately raising funds to repay debt.

Major player Sunac China Holdings Ltd. said on Thursday it would raise US$580.1-million from a share sale.

A source close to Sunac told Reuters the company has no further plan in the near term to place its shares or shares in unit Sunac Services to raise capital, adding it has sufficient funds to meet debt payment obligations due in the short term and for project development.

Guangzhou R&F Properties, which has a number of projects in global cities such as London, had its Hong Kong unit declared in ‘selective default’ on Thursday after it pushed through a bond payment delay.

Smaller developer Agile Group pledged 65.6 million shares of its property management unit, A-Living Smart City Services, on Jan. 6 for an unspecified amount, a stock exchange filing showed.

Shares of Chinese developers generally closed down on Thursday, with Sunac and Agile tumbling 22.6 per cent and 13.3 per cent, respectively. Shimao fell 9.4 per cent while Yuzhou shed 6.9 per cent. Evergrande dropped 3.6 per cent.

One of Yuzhou’s yuan-denominated bonds tumbled 21.8 per cent in the morning before trading was temporarily halted.

Two Shanghai-traded bonds of Shanghai Shimao were also suspended but after surging over 30 per cent.

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