Chinese regulators have asked China Evergrande Group to avoid a near-term default on its dollar bonds, Bloomberg Law reported on Thursday, the day the troubled property developer is due to make a much-awaited interest payment on its offshore debt.
In a recent meeting with Evergrande executives, regulators said the company should communicate proactively with bondholders to avoid a default but didn't give more specific guidance, it reported, citing a person familiar with the matter.
Also Read: Evergrande reaches deal on key domestic bond payment. What it means
The Wall Street Journal reported separately on Thursday that Chinese authorities were asking local governments to prepare for the potential downfall of Evergrande, citing officials familiar with the discussions.
Local governments have been ordered to assemble groups of accountants and legal experts to examine the finances around Evergrande's operations in their respective regions, the newspaper said, citing the people.
Also Read: Evergrande situation can lead to rupee coming under pressure: Report
They have also been ordered to talk to local state-owned and private property developers to prepare to take over projects and set up law-enforcement teams to monitor public anger and so-called mass incidents, a euphemism for protests, the WSJ said.
A spokesperson for Evergrande, China's second-biggest property developer, declined to comment on the two reports.
Also Read: Analysis | Evergrande and its likely positive implications for India
US equity index futures, which had kicked as much as 0.8 percent higher on the day after the Bloomberg report, trimmed earlier gains to stand up 0.6 percent.
Evergrande Chairman Hui Ka Yan urged his executives late on Wednesday to ensure the delivery of quality properties and the redemption of its wealth management products, which are typically held by millions of retail investors in China.
He did not mention the company's offshore debt.
Analysts said the moves underscored political pressure on Evergrande, whose liabilities run to 2 percent of China's gross domestic product, to contain the fallout from its credit crunch and protect mom-and-pop investors over professional creditors.
Global markets have been on tenterhooks in recent weeks as looming payment obligations of Evergrande, which has a $305 billion mountain of debt, triggered fears its difficulties could pose systemic risks to China's financial system.
The company has $83.5 million in dollar-bond interest payments due on Thursday on a $2 billion offshore bond and a $47.5 million dollar-bond interest payment due next week.
Both bonds would default if Evergrande fails to settle the interest within 30 days of the scheduled payment dates.
A company spokesperson did not immediately respond to request for comment on its payment obligation due on Thursday.
Evergrande, which epitomised the borrow-to-build business model and was once China's top-selling developer, ran into trouble over the past few months as Beijing tightened rules in its property sector to rein back debt levels and speculation.
Investors worry that the rot could spread to creditors including banks in China and abroad, though analysts have been downplaying the risk that a collapse would result in a "Lehman moment", or a systemic liquidity crunch.
There is mounting pressure on the company to act as the frustration of homebuyers and retail investors who have sunk their savings into its properties and products grows.
"Assuming this situation goes the way of a debt restructuring ... we think the retail investor nature of the wealth management products would be prioritised for social stability," said Ezien Hoo, credit analyst at OCBC Bank.
Foreign investors, who hold paper issued by Evergrande's offshore entities, might find it harder to get paid as they had "lower bargaining power versus other lenders closer to the assets", he said.
Shares in Evergrande rose nearly 18 percent on Thursday after it resolved the coupon payment for one of its domestic, onshore bonds, though the stock is still down more than 80 percent this year.
Shares in Evergrande Property Services rose nearly 8 percent and relief spread to mainland property stocks listed in Hong Kong. Country Garden, China's largest developer, climbed 7 percent, Sunac China jumped 9 percent and Guangzhou R&F Properties ended 7.5 percent higher.
Oscar Choi, founder and chief investment officer at Oscar and Partners Capital Ltd, said Evergrande was wary of enflaming social tensions by leaving homes unbuilt, construction workers unpaid and retail investors counting their losses.
Once those priorities had been met, Evergrande would talk to its other creditors, he said, adding: "Otherwise a few hundred thousand people will fight with the government."
US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said on Wednesday that Evergrande's problems seemed particular to China and that he did not see a parallel with the US corporate sector.
Switzerland's central bank, however, warned on Thursday that while it was wrong to be alarmist, the issue should not be dismissed as a small, local problem.
Fitch Ratings said on Sept. 16 that it had cut its 2021 economic growth forecast for China to 8.1 percent from 8.4 percent, citing the impact of the slowdown in the country's property sector on domestic demand.
Underscoring the scramble to avoid contagion, Chinese Estates Holdings, Evergrande's second-biggest shareholder, said on Thursday it had sold $32 million of its stake and planned to sell the rest.
Some analysts say it could take weeks for investors to have any clarity about how the Evergrande situation will resolve.
"The company could restructure its debts but continue in operation, or it could liquidate," wrote Paul Christopher, head of global market strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute. In either case, investors in the company's financial instruments would likely suffer some losses, he wrote.
"In the event of a liquidation, however, Chinese and global investors could decide that the contagion could spread beyond China," he said.