Until recently, Evergrande was the world's biggest company that no one had heard about. Now, everyone's talking about it. The company that was too big to fail has missed interest payments to several of its lenders, prompting fears of an imminent collapse. If it falls, it could take the global economy with it. Find out more about the company that's in danger of sparking China's Lehman Brothers moment with these 20 things you didn't know about Evergrande.
1. It was founded by Hui Ka Yan
Evergrande's founder is Hui Ka Yan. After graduating from Wuhan University of Science and Technology in 1982, Hui began working at the Wuyang Iron and Steel Company. After rising through the ranks to the position of director, he resigned in 1992 to take up a position with the trading company Zhongda in Shenzhen. In 1994, he established the Guangzhou Pengda Industrial Co., Ltd, and three years after that, he founded the Evergrande Group. In March 2020, Forbes named Hui as the third-richest billionaire in China. Since then, his net worth has fallen sharply due to mounting debts - by December 2020, he had fallen to No.10 on Forbes' list and has continued to see billions scrapped off his net worth as Evergrande's fortunes continue to tumble.
2. It's the second-largest real estate developer in China
Since its inception, Evergrande has grown astronomically. According to Wikipedia, it owns 565 million square meters of development land and real estate projects in 22 cities, including Guangzhou, Shenyang, Chengdu, Chongqing Wuhan, Kunming, Tianjin, Luoyang, Changsha, Nanning, Xian, Nanjing, Zhengzhou, Taiyuan and Guiyang in Mainland China. It now commands the status of the second-largest real estate developer in mainland China by sales.
3. It's part of the Global 500
Evergrande isn't just big in China, it's huge the world over. The company ranks 122nd on the Fortune Global 500, meaning it's one of the biggest businesses in the world by revenue. Based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, it directly employs around 200,000 people but indirectly sustains more than 3.8 million jobs across the globe through its various activities.
4. It owns two theme park brands
Although it built its reputation in real estate, Evergrande now has fingers in dozens of pies, even theme parks. It currently owns "Hengda children of the world" and "Hengda water world", two of the largest theme park brands in China. Its portfolio also includes the major tourist complex "Chinese island of Hainan to spend." Stil in progress is Ocean Flower Island, an artificial archipelago located off the north coast of Danzhou, Hainan, which will consist of three independent islets with a total area of 940 acres. Once completed, the project will feature a 127,000-square-metre marine world with a water park, 23 recreation projects, 28 characteristic museums, commercial and retail zones, a fairyland, 8 themed food streets, and a 7-star hotel, among other things.
5. It owns a football club
Clearly not content with restricting itself to the real estate business, Evergrande stepped out of its comfort zone in 2010 with the acquisition of the football club Guangzhou Evergrande F.C. After investing heavily in new players, the team's fortunes skyrocketed, culminating in them bringing home the trophy at the 2013 AFC Champions League. The company's sporting activities don't end there: in 2020, they began construction of the $1.7 billion Guangzhou Evergrande Football Stadium in Xie Village, Panyu District, Guangzhou, which currently has a planned opening of December 2022.
6. It owns the largest football tutoring school in the world
Evergrande doesn't do things by half. If it decides to open a football tutoring school, you can bet that school will be one of the most impressive of its kind. Evergrande Football School, which ranks as the world's largest football school, is most certainly that. Founded in Qingyuan, Guangdong, China in 2012 as a full-time boarding primary and secondary football school, it boasts more than 100 Chinese coaches and 22 Spanish coaches (many of whom are former footballers from the Spanish league), all of whom have been selected by SOXNA and approved by Real Madrid Foundation.
7. It's branched into electric cars
In 2018, Evergrande jumped on board the green bandwagon when it acquired a 45% stake in the electric vehicle start-up Faraday Future. The acquisition, which cost a cool $2 billion, was made via its Evergrande Health subsidiary. After Faraday Future began experiencing teething problems, Evergrande expanded its focus with the launch of three production bases in Nansha, Guangzhou and Shanghai. Last year, it announced the launch of its first six electric vehicles through the Hengchi brand. According to electrive.com, by spring 2021, Evergrande New Energy Vehicle had surpassed Ford and GM in terms of stock market value. However, as the company's car plans have thus far been founded by its real estate business, which is now facing a decidedly uncertain future, the continuation of the car business is in jeopardy.
8. It's got a healthcare division
In March 2015, Evergrande expanded its operations into the health and wellness sector with the acquisition of New Media Group Holdings, which it promptly renamed Evergrande Health. According to Reuters, the segment's businesses include community health management, international hospitals, the elderly care and rehabilitation industry, medical beauty and anti-aging, as well as the sales of healthcare spaces. One of its biggest projects is the "Evergrande Health Valley", a health and wellness park and retirement community. It also works in conjunction with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts to oversee the operation of Boao Evergrande International Hospital in Hainan.
9. It's selling off its internet unit
In 2015, Evergrande formed the internet-powered streaming media company HengTen Networks in partnership with Tencent. According to htmimi.com, its membership-based long video platform - Pumpkin Film - had more than 48 million registered members and 15 million paid-up users as of April 30, 2021. However, the future role of Evergrande in the company was put in doubt in August 2021 after it revealed plans to sell 7% of its share to Tencent for HK$2.07 billion (roughly $418 million) and another 4% stake to an unidentified buyer for HK$1.18 billion.
10. It owns shares in Shengjing Bank
In November 2015, Evergrande diversified its offering when it acquired a 50% stake in Sino-Singapore Great Eastern Life Insurance Company for $617 million. it subsequently rebranded the company as Evergrande Life. Its activities in the finance and insurance market don't end there: it also owns shares in Shengjing Bank - albeit considerably less than it used to. As Bloomberg reports, this August, it sold 167 million shares in the bank at 6 yuan apiece ( the same as its purchase price in 2019) as it continues to downsize in an attempt to stave off its liquidity crisis.
11. It raised over $15 billion in wealth management products
Over the past few years, Evergrande has sold wealth management products to more than 80000 people, many of whom are employees of Evergrande or owners of Evergrande properties, via Evergrande Wealth, a peer to peer online lending platform originally used to fund property projects. It's estimated to have raised more than 100 billion yuan ($15.4bn) in the past five years. According to Aljazeera, around 40 billion yuan ($6.1bn) of the investments are outstanding, with many investors now fearing that they'll never get their investment back after the indebted property developer stopped repaying some investors.
12. Jackie Chan promoted its water brand
In 2014, Everrande added another bow to its string with the launch of "Hengda Bingquan" (later rebranded as "Evergrande Spring") mineral water brand. Despite investing ¥5.54 billion in the brand and hiring Jackie Chan to endorse it, Evergrande couldn't stave off the massive amount of negative publicity it received in Korea after listing the water source as "Jang bai shan" rather than the Korean name "Mount Baekdusan." The use of the Chinese name of the mountain, which borders China and North Korea, has long been a stress point between Korea and China, and Evergrande's decision did little to lessen the tension. Neither did it help their struggling agribusiness, which the company was forced to sell in 2016 for ¥2.7 billion after sustaining losses of ¥4 billion.
13. It was the world's most valuable real estate brand in 2020
In September 2020, Evergrande was declared the world's most valuable real estate brand when its brand value doubled within the year to 16.2 billion U.S. dollars. According to xinhuanet.com, it also emerged as the fastest-growing brand in the Brand Finance Real Estate 25, ranking at 118 percent. At the time, its success was put down to its decision to move away from property development and focus on alternative business opportunities.
14. The writing was on the wall in 2020
Evergrande may have been declared the most valuable real estate brand in the world in September 2020, but by then, the writing was already on the wall. Hints of the impending crisis started when the company reportedly sent a letter warning of a potential liquidity crisis to the provincial government of Guangdong. When the letter became public knowledge, Evergrande disputed its authenticity. Either way, the crisis was temporarily staved when several investors waived their right to force a repayment of $13 billion. However, the debts continued to grow, and a year later, there was no denying the problem any longer.
15. It's China's most indebted developer
As Evergrande's ambitions have grown, so have its debts. To fund its various projects, it's borrowed heavily, to the end that it's now China's most indebted developer, with over $300 billion worth of liabilities. In August 2021, it began warning investors that it may not be able to keep up with repayments unless it was able to raise money quickly. In September, the warning became even graver when it disclosed via a stock exchange filing that it was struggling to find buyers for some of its assets.
16. Its aggressive ambitions have been blamed for its problems
According to CNN, the company's troubles are rooted in its aggressive ambitions, which have seen it stray far from its core business model. According to Goldman Sachs analysts, "the complexity of Evergrande Group, and the lack of sufficient information on the company's assets and liabilities" makes it "difficult to ascertain a more precise picture of [its] recovery."
17. It's sparked protests
Shareholders may have been suspicious that something was afoot for months (in the past year, Evergrande stock has lost nearly 85% of its value) but the escalating crisis has now hit the streets. Footage from Reuters obtained mid-September showed demonstrators gathering at its headquarters in Shenzhen, at one point even accosting a company representative.
18. Its downfall could prove catastrophic for the Chinese economy
As bloomberg.com writes, an uncontrolled downward spiral could prove catastrophic for China’s economy, The aggressive controls introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19 over the past 18 months have already taken a heavy toll on the country's retail and travel industry: if the property market, which makes up 28% of China's economy and 40% of household assets, is also hit, the impact on social stability could be devasting.
19. It might spark a global crisis
If Evergrande's downward spiral continues unabated, the repercussions are likely to be felt far beyond China. In a repeat of the financial crisis triggered by the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008, the global economy could be dragged into a recession, heralding wage freezes, mass unemployment, and a real estate crash.
20. Its future lies in the hands of Beijing
The consequences of Evergrande's liquidity crisis are already being felt across the globe, with even companies with no direct link to Evergrande reporting losses. However, China has the tools in place to prevent a complete catastrophe, and most investors believe they'll use them to secure a resolution. Whether that comes in the form of a bailout or a demand for a restructure remains to be seen.
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee