Global distressed-debt funds circle China again, eye $256bn bad-loans market

Traders eye stock prices in Beijing on the first day of trading in 2018. A massive increase in non-performing loans throughout the Chinese economy will be a key consideration for investors in 2018 as distressed debt funds move into the country. (Reuters)
Updated 05 January 2018

Global distressed-debt funds circle China again, eye $256bn bad-loans market

BEIJING: Global distressed-debt specialists are stepping up their dealmaking in China after a decade, betting that the country is becoming serious about developing a market to tackle its $256 billion of official non-performing loans (NPLs).

Groups such as Blackstone Group and Bain Capital Credit made their first investments in recent months, amid surging write-offs by banks and indications that China’s commercial bad loans market is set to deepen.

Oaktree Capital Group last month agreed to buy a portfolio of distressed loans with a face value of 3.1 billion yuan ($476.70 million), its fifth deal, according to Tony Rao, a partner with law firm Alpha & Leader, which helped provide due diligence on the deal.

More overseas cash is set to enter the market in 2018, said Rao, in spite of rising competition with local buyers that has sent average prices above 50 cents on the dollar.
Oaktree declined to comment.

NPLs on commercial bank balance sheets officially amounted to 1.67 trillion yuan ($256.80 billion) at the end of September, or 1.74 percent of all loans. Overdue loans — those not yet technically considered bad — reached 3.4 trillion yuan. Many analysts estimate actual amounts are much higher.

Loan write-offs by commercial lenders, one indication of how deeply banks are cleaning house, jumped 50 percent to about 1.4 trillion yuan in 2016, according to estimates by UBS analyst Jason Bedford.

An initial wave of foreign interest in China’s bad loans a decade ago, led by big western banks, faded as deals failed to materialize and legal uncertainties multiplied.

But China’s distressed-debt market has become more commercialized since then. Once the monopoly of the Big Four asset management companies established in 1999 to take over bad loans from the country’s biggest lenders, the market today includes at least 55 regional managers while sales channels for bad loans now include online auctions, over-the-counter trades at local asset exchanges as well as NPL securitization.

“The market has broadened,” said Phil Groves, president of DAC Management, a China-focused alternative investment manager and bad-loan servicing company that was bought by Blackstone last year. “There’s more to buy, bigger portfolios, and different types of credit available.”

Blackstone acquired its first-ever Chinese commercial loan portfolio for $195 million in August — the same month that Bain Capital Credit did its first-ever deal with the purchase of $200 million in mostly real estate backed loans in the coastal province of Jiangsu.

Bain is now looking at other real estate-backed portfolios and building a loan servicing team to handle future deals, said Kei Chua, Bain’s Hong Kong-based managing director.

Global distressed-debt players said they’re encouraged by ongoing legal and structural changes in China — particularly in coastal regions — that has seen the emergence of professional appraisers and brokers, databases to check asset titles and liens, and greater certainty in the courts.

Foreign investors have for now mostly stuck to real estate deals because that market is better established with easily-valued collateral. Oaktree’s latest portfolio, consisting of 178 loans in China’s Pearl River Delta, is mostly but not entirely property-backed, according to Alpha & Leader’s Rao.

China’s bad loans market is, however, dominated by local distressed funds, many of which set up in the last two years, fund managers and advisers said, which has increased competition and raised NPL prices.

A national industry association set up just two years ago has grown to more than 600 members from 200 initially.

“There isn’t a national market,” said Deng Yanshan, executive director for investment at Lakeshore Capital, a domestic asset manager which oversees 2.5 billion yuan in funds. “This is still a localized business that’s based in provinces, counties and cities.”

International firms must also deal with currency controls and related government approvals — creating an execution risk, particularly on timing and hedging costs, that their local rivals do not have to bear.

But Ted Osborn, an NPL specialist partner at PwC in Hong Kong, said the outlook for global distressed asset buyers remains good.

“When China gets serious and needs to start selling big chunks of bad loans, foreigners are still the only ones with organized capital to do it.”

 


Indonesia hails ‘historic’ $22.9bn mega-investment deal with UAE

Updated 17 January 2020

Indonesia hails ‘historic’ $22.9bn mega-investment deal with UAE

  • Leaders agree initial $6.8bn projects plan, including initiative to build a replica of Abu Dhabi grand mosque in Java

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s business community on Thursday welcomed the UAE’s pledge to pump tens of billions of dollars into a wide range of key sector projects.

President Joko Widodo and his entourage secured an overall $22.9 billion deal during an official two-day visit to Abu Dhabi earlier this week covering the fields of energy, logistics, port construction, mining, and agriculture.

It was also revealed that the delegation brokered a UAE commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund.

At a bilateral meeting, the Indonesian leader and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan witnessed the signing of 11 business accords between the two countries. Indonesia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said the UAE had committed to investing $6.8 billion out of the total agreed spending package into the initiatives.

Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s chief minister for maritime affairs and investment, described the UAE’s pledges as possibly being “the biggest deals in Indonesia’s history, secured with the UAE within only six months,” referring to the crown prince’s visit to Indonesia last July.

While most lauded the deal, some Indonesian business leaders remained cautious over the long-term prospects for the projects.

Fachry Thaib, head of the Middle East Committee and OIC at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, said the schemes could trigger a wide-ranging domino effect through job creation and other business ventures.

“The government needs to have a strong lobbying team that can follow up these deals and push them into investment realizations. We have had such commitments from other Gulf countries, but there was no further lobbying and the pledges were hardly realized,” he told Arab News.

Zaini Alawi, a businessman who exports and imports between Indonesia and the Middle East, said: “It would set a good precedent to attract other Gulf countries to invest here if Indonesia shows it could aptly manage these investment deals.”

Director for Middle East affairs at Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, Achmad Rizal Purnama, told Arab News that the $6.8 billion commitment from the UAE was only the first phase of a long-term program.

Widodo and the crown prince also witnessed the signing of five government cooperation agreements in health, agriculture, Islamic affairs, and counterterrorism.

Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Fachrul Razi said one of the main aspects of the cooperation agreement would be the promotion of religious moderation and raising awareness of the dangers of extremism.

FASTFACT

The UAE has pledged to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund.

Noting that the UAE had pledged to fund the construction of a replica of the Abu Dhabi grand mosque in Solo, the president’s hometown in Java, the minister pointed out that the grant was part of a commitment by the two countries to establish a mosque that welcomed all people and served a pivotal role in promoting the middle path of Islam.

Riza Widyarsa, a Middle East expert at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News that the cooperation deal could help more Indonesians to understand that not all countries in the Middle East observed conservative Islam. “They are also very active in countering religious extremism and radicalism,” he said.

In addition to the multi-billion-dollar projects, Purnama said Indonesia had also secured the UAE’s commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund into which the UAE, the US International Development Finance Corporation, and Japan’s SoftBank would inject funding.

And according to Pandjaitan, the UAE had pledged to be “the biggest contributor” to the fund.

The fund would be used to finance Indonesia’s ambitious infrastructure development projects and the construction of its proposed new capital in East Kalimantan, a relocation that has been estimated to cost $33 billion and of which Indonesia could only afford 19 percent.

He said all parties involved would meet in Tokyo soon to set up the structure of the fund and to finalize the plan, which the government expected to launch by mid-2020, a year after the crown prince proposed the idea to Widodo.

“This could be the first time that big capitalists work together in a single project,” Pandjaitan added.