Why is Evergrande shaking markets?

Sabri Ben-Achour Sep 21, 2021
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A woman drives her motorbike at the façade of an Evergrande housing complex in southeastern China on Sept. 16. The company is some $300 billion in debt. Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

Why is Evergrande shaking markets?

Sabri Ben-Achour Sep 21, 2021
Heard on:
A woman drives her motorbike at the façade of an Evergrande housing complex in southeastern China on Sept. 16. The company is some $300 billion in debt. Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images
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Evergrande, a massive Chinese property developer, has a problem: It’s $300 billion in debt.

On Monday, Evergrande’s problem appeared to become the world’s problem. Markets were frightened, and the S&P 500 closed down 1.7%. People have compared Evergrande to Lehman Brothers, its situation is that bad.

The real estate company is China’s second largest property developer by sales. Evergrande has also invested in electric vehicles, media production and has a theme park, plus 2,000 domestic subsidiaries. It is a big deal — in China, that is. So what then is the connection to U.S. markets?

“I think there is almost no real connection,” said Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “China, as a country, does not have very many deep connections to the global financial system. Citibank and JPMorgan Chase have not lent a significant amount of money to Evergrande.”

Some U.S. firms have bought Evergrande bonds; BlackRock held about 1% of its portfolio in Evergrande bond shares as of August, according to Morningstar. The company might lose a lot of money — but that’s not about to take down the global financial system.

There is a more indirect way Evergrande’s problems are the world’s problems, though.

“Evergrande is potentially representative of a much broader set of problems across China’s real estate sector,” said Nick Consonery, an executive director at Eurasia Group. “That’s a massive piece of China’s economy, so as goes their real estate sector will go China’s growth outlook and the outlook for emerging markets.”

And, in turn, global business. It’s also hard to say how the Chinese government will want to handle all of this.

“There is a scenario here where Beijing actively decides we’re going to let Evergrande go to signal to investors in China that the government’s not always going to be a backstop,” Consonery said.

That could backfire. Global investors don’t need the Evergrande anxiety right now.

“I think it was probably just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Lindsey Bell, chief investment strategist at Ally Invest.

Markets were uncomfortably high, economic uncertainty was already building.

“We already came off several months of weakening economic data, then now supply chain concerns are ramping up, inflation’s still a question,” she said.

Add to that a little bit of concern over the health of the world’s second largest economy and, well, presto! Market mayhem.

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