The debt crisis now threatening to overwhelm property developer Evergrande arrives at a decidedly inauspicious time for China. With the national economy continuing to slow, the prospect of an economic crisis centered on a Chinese entity is quite real. Global markets sense it and investors are preparing for the ripple effects. Last week, Fitch Ratings agency downgraded its forecast for China’s economic growth, citing the slowdown in the property sector as the prime contributing factor. Evergrande has been in trouble for some time now and its current problems did not arrive out of nowhere. In fact, alarm bells have been sounding for years over the state of the Chinese property market.
All eyes are focusing on Xi Jinping now as it becomes clear the Chinese government will likely have to intervene. To put it simply, Beijing cannot stand on the sidelines and permit a chaotic default where citizens lose large sums of money. Allowing that could cause a ripple effect in other sectors of the national economy, another prospect Beijing cannot allow. As a hedge against a worst-case scenario coming about, the Chinese government has ordered local officials to prepare for a potential Evergrande collapse. Local governments and Chinese-owned enterprises are being directed to intercede only if Evergrande is unable to meet its obligations. Some Chinese officials have described the measures as storm preparation.
How Beijing handles the crisis in coming days will set the tone for market behavior. If investors are encouraged by the way the Chinese government handles the Evergrande situation it will minimize the damage and perhaps instill a burst of positivity to China’s national image, which has absorbed considerable damage over the past 18 months.