Dec 19, 2022 - Economy

China property bonds soar on bailout trade

A residential development in Shanghai. Photo: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Prices for bonds of China's heavily indebted — and financially wobbly — homebuilders have soared in recent weeks.

Why it matters: The rally — spotlighted by the Wall Street Journal — suggests investors think China's economic troubles are so great that the government has no choice but to keep supporting key players in the residential real estate market.

  • From the traders' perspective, that means bonds of companies that were near bankruptcy will keep making payments to investors. Therefore that paper — recently considered nearly worthless — is quite valuable again.
Data: ICE Asian Dollar High Yield Corporate China Issuers Index; Chart: Axios Visuals

Flashback: In the fall of 2021, China Evergrande, one of the country's largest housing developers, started running short of cash to pay creditors, setting off a financial crisis among other real estate developers amid a downturn in the housing market.

  • The fact that the government ultimately allowed Evergrande to default raised questions among investors, some of whom presumed these companies had implicit backing from the government.
  • They then dumped bonds of Chinese homebuilders, in droves.

The big picture: Homebuilding — and related industries — accounts for between 25% and 30% of China's GDP, analysts have recently estimated.

The bottom line: A longstanding tactic among traders worldwide is to buy what governments are bailing out. That trade is clearly working here.

  • Returns on an index of Chinese junk bonds — a category dominated by developers — were roughly 29% over the last month, according to ICE Data Services.

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