Financial strains among Chinese property developers are hurting the Asian high-yield debt market, where the companies account for a large chunk of bond sales.
That’s widening a gulf with the region’s investment-grade securities, which have been doing well amid continued stimulus support.
Yields for Asia’s speculative-grade dollar bonds rose 41 basis points in the second quarter, according to a Bloomberg Barclays index, versus a 5 basis-point decline for investment-grade debt. They’ve increased for six straight weeks, the longest stretch since 2018, driven by a roughly 150 basis-point increase for Chinese notes.
China’s government has been pursuing a campaign to cut leverage and toughen up its corporate sector. Uncertainty surrounding big Chinese borrowers including China Evergrande Group, the largest issuer of dollar junk bonds in Asia, and investment-grade firm China Huarong Asset Management Co, have also weighed on the broader Asian market for riskier credit.
“Diverging borrowing costs have been mainly driven by waning investor sentiment in the high-yield primary markets, particularly relating to the China real estate sector,” said Conan Tam, head of Asia Pacific debt capital markets at Bank of America. “This is expected to continue until we see a significant sentiment shift here.” Such a shift would be unlikely to come without a turnaround in views toward the Chinese property industry, which has been leading a record pace in onshore bond defaults this year.
But there have been some more positive signs recently. Evergrande told Bloomberg News that as of June 30 it met one of the “three red lines” imposed to curb debt growth for many sector heavyweights. “By year-end, the reduction in leverage will help bring down borrowing costs” for the industry, said Francis Woo, head of fixed income syndicate Asia ex-Japan at Credit Agricole CIB.
Spreads have been widening for Asian dollar bonds this year while they’ve been narrowing in the US for both high-yield and investment grade amid that country’s economic rebound, said Anne Zhang, co-head of asset class strategy, FICC in Asia at JPMorgan Private Bank.
She expects Asia’s underperformance to persist this quarter, led by Chinese credits as investors remain cautious about policies there.
“However, as the relative yield differential between Asia and the US becomes more pronounced there will be demand for yield that could help narrow the gap,” said Zhang.
A handful of issuers mandated on Monday for potential dollar bond deals including Hongkong Land Co, China Modern Dairy Holdings Ltd and India’s REC Ltd, though there were no debt offerings scheduled to price with US markets closed for the July 4 Independence Day holiday.
Spreads on Asian investment-grade dollar bonds were little changed to 1 basis point wider, according to credit traders. Yield premiums on the notes widened by almost 2 basis points last week, in their first weekly increase in six, according to a Bloomberg Barclays index.
Pedestrians walk across a road in the central business district in Beijing. Financial strains among Chinese property developers are hurting the Asian high-yield debt market, where the companies account for a large chunk of bond sales.