The company, Evergrande, accumulated $305 billion in debt through a business model that some have deemed “the biggest pyramid scheme [in] the world.”
Evergrande Can’t Pay Back Loans
The Chinese real estate company Evergrande, the second-largest property developer in the country, will likely be unable to meet interest payments on $84 million in offshore bonds due this week.
That amount almost seems like chump change compared to the whopping $305 billion in debt it managed to accrue since its founding in 1996, but if Evergrande defaults on its payments and collapses, it could send shockwaves through Chinese markets and economies abroad.
At its height, Evergrande was a Fortune 500 company. In addition to real estate, it also owns a theme park, a line of electric cars, a mineral extraction group, and a soccer team; however, it has struggled to maintain its real estate business model over the last several years due to government crackdowns on how much companies can take out in loans.
Evergrande Struggling to Pay Its Debts
In the 2000s, Evergrande aggressively borrowed money from banks and other lenders to buy land from local governments that were eager to sell. As the value of land rose, it kept borrowing, ultimately driving up the price of land even more. Because of that, many discredited Evergrande’s business model as “the biggest pyramid scheme the world has yet seen.”
For years, the model did not stir up any major challenges from Chinese regulators, but in 2018, President Xi Jinping began emphasizing “financial risk” as a problem that the government needed to address. Two years later, regulators imposed a system known as “three red lines,” which was meant to curb unregulated borrowing.
Under the system, the more a company owes, the less it is allowed to borrow. Notably, Evergrande crossed all three of the “red lines,” so regulators barred it from borrowing any more money.
But Evergrande would need to generate some form of income if it wanted to stay afloat. Because of that, it pre-sold more than 1.4 million apartments it hadn’t yet finished building. In other words, Evergrande stopped borrowing from official lenders and essentially started borrowing from everyday homeowners, asking them to pay major deposits before their homes were completed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some people have now waited years for their homes to be ready.
At one point, Evergrande even became so strapped for cash that it forced its own employees into a corner, telling them to provide the company with a short-term loan or lose their bonuses. That, in turn, led to some employees needing to take out loans through banks.
Similar to its inability to pay back banks, earlier this month, it stopped paying back the loans from its employees.
Amid Evergrande’s uncertainty, the company’s stock value has steadily fallen over the past year from around $4 last September to just 30 cents Tuesday.
Will This Lead to a Global Market Crisis?
There is currently no market crisis or collapse, only concerns that one could come.
While Evergrande’s inability to repay its lenders is unsettling enough for homeowners and the company’s employees, the effects of an Evergrande default could be much more far-reaching.
For one, if Evergrande defaults, banks and other firms will potentially be forced to lend less given the fact that the company owes large sums of money to around 300 institutions. If that happens, it could lead to a credit crunch, meaning companies would struggle to be able to borrow money at affordable rates. Some might be forced to close up shop for good.
On top of that, the property values of existing homes in China would likely diminish. Since homes are such a valuable asset, that would likely lead to a decrease in consumer spending.
With those two effects combined, other countries would almost undoubtedly feel the financial shock. On Monday, upon the continued news that Evergrande likely can’t pay lenders, the U.S.-based Dow Jones fell 900 points. While it has recovered somewhat, other major U.S. indices like the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ saw similar pullbacks.
Many have asked if China is about to face a “Lehman Brothers moment,” a reference to the events that caused the disastrous 2008 recession. For now, the answer is uncertain, but many analysts expect it won’t.
That’s because while a full-scale crisis isn’t off the table, many believe the Chinese government will step in to bail out Evergrande, which some have called “too big to fail.”
“Rather than risk disrupting supply chains and enraging homeowners, we think the government will probably find a way to ensure Evergrande’s core business survives,” Mattie Bekink, of the Economist Intelligence Unit, told the BBC.
Still, nothing is certain. It’s possible China could refuse to bail out Evergrande to avoid what could be seen as it setting a bad precedent as it tries to rein in corporate debt.
Chinese markets were closed Tuesday, but they will reopen Wednesday. No doubt, analysts will closely study how investors in the country react and whether or not that reaction could give the public a better idea about how the government might respond.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Washington Post) (Axios)
NFL Reaches Agreement to End Race-Norming, New Testing Formula Remains Unclear
The practice, which was adopted by the league in the ’90s, assumes that Black players operate with a lower cognitive function than players of other races.
NFL Ends Race-Norming
The U.S. District Court of Philadelphia uploaded a confidential proposed settlement between the NFL and former players on Wednesday that confirms the league’s plans to abolish race norming.
The NFL previously halted the use of race-norming in June as part of a$1 billion settlement with retirees Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, but details of the deal weren’t supposed to be released until it underwent review from a federal judge.
In fact, it currently seems as if someone in the court accidentally uploaded the document, as it was deleted hours later.
Among the details reaped from the settlement, it was revealed that the league plans to modify cognitive tests over the next year as part of a short-term change regarding how it verifies dementia-related brain injury claims. Previously, it used race-norming — the practice of assuming Black players have a lower cognitive function than players of other races — to test whether retirees seeking financial compensation had sustained brain injuries from the sport.
Black retirees who were denied access to compensation originally will also have their tests automatically re-evaluated over the course of the next year, if the settlement pushes through.
The NFL has additionally agreed to develop a long-term replacement system with the help of experts and players’ lawyers.
Still, the exact formula behind these new testing metrics, which will be designed as race-neutral per the agreement, is unknown. For example, retirees don’t know how the new changes will affect their scores or if they might potentially need to take additional tests before becoming eligible for compensation.
The Issue With Race-Norming
Race-norming was first adopted by the league back in the ’90s, and in theory, it was meant to help offer better treatment to Black retirees who had developed dementia from brain injuries related to football.
Essentially, the thought process was to take socioeconomic factors into account since Black people come from disadvantaged communities at higher rates; however, that quickly became a major issue since Black players were held to a higher standard of proof than players of other races.
For example, since the tests assumed Black people have less cognitive skill, Black retirees seeking claims needed to score lower to be granted compensation. That then led to many having their claims denied because they tested too high — even if they would have tested within the range to receive compensation had they been white.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The Washington Post) (ABC News)
Facebook Plans Name Change as Part of Rebrand
News of the alleged rebrand came the same day Facebook was fined nearly $70 million for breaching U.K. orders related to the company’s 2020 acquisition of Giphy, as well as the same day it reached a $14 million discrimination settlement with the U.S. Justice Department.
Facebook Allegedly Plans To Debut New Name
Facebook, Inc. is planning to announce a new company name next week, according to a Tuesday report from The Verge.
The rebrand would reportedly align with CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision to shape the company into a full-fledged “metaverse” — AKA a virtual reality space where users can interact with one another in real-time.
The new name is currently unknown, but it would likely not affect the social media platform Facebook. Instead, the change would target its parent company, Facebook, Inc. — similar to how Alphabet became the parent company of Google following a 2015 restructure.
On Monday, Facebook said it is currently planning to hire 10,000 people in the European Union to help make its metaverse goal a reality.
Still, plans for the metaverse have not gone uncriticized, especially given the recent weeks of increased scrutiny regarding Facebook’s dominance over people’s daily lives. “Metaverse” was first coined in 1992 by American author Neal Stephenson in his novel “Snow Crash,” which depicts a corporate-owned virtual world.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey even cited one user who referenced the novel, agreeing that Stephenson was right in his prediction of “a dystopian corporate dictatorship.”
Facebook To Pay Fine and Settlement
Also on Tuesday, regulators in the United Kingdom fined Facebook nearly $70 million for breaching orders related to its 2020 acquisition of Giphy.
While that’s only a fraction of the $400 million it paid to purchase Giphy, UK regulators warned that they could eventually order Facebook to sell off Giphy if they find proof the acquisition has damaged competition.
In the U.S., the Justice Department said the same day that Facebook has agreed to pay up to $14.25 million to settle discrimination allegations brought by the agency under the Trump administration.
In December, the department accused the company of favoring foreign workers with temporary work visas over what it described as thousands of qualified U.S. workers.
“Facebook is not above the law and must comply with our nation’s federal civil rights laws, which prohibit discriminatory recruitment and hiring practices,” Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general at the department, said.
Notably, this settlement is the largest ever collected by the department’s Civil Rights Division.
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Engadget) (The New York Times)
SEC Releases Long-Awaited Report on January Memestock Frenzy, Pokes Hole in “Short Squeeze” Narrative
Among other findings, the SEC said hedge funds weren’t broadly damaged by January’s unprecedented trading event.
SEC Publishes Findings
The Securities and Exchange Commission released a long-awaited, 44-page report on Monday detailing its findings regarding this year’s “Memestock Frenzy,” which involved companies such as GameStop and AMC.
During the frenzy in late January, the share prices of those companies soared exponentially. According to one of the key narratives of the situation, smaller investors piled onto GameStop as a way to directly attack hedge funds that were actively betting against GameStop’s success and future. As CNBC reported at the time, those “hedge funds and other players had to rush in to cover their bets against the stock.”
What followed were reports that hedge funds had lost billions of dollars all at once. In fact, one notable hedge fund, Melvin Capital, received what many described as a nearly $3 billion bailout. Meanwhile, in June, it was reported that the London-based White Square Capital had shut down its main fund due to the losses it suffered in January.
However, now, the SEC has said there is no real evidence to support some of the key pillars of this narrative, including that hedge funds were substantially hurt in the long run.
“Staff believes that hedge funds broadly were not significantly affected by investments in GME and other meme stocks,” the agency said in its report. “Staff did not observe that any advisers to private funds and registered funds experienced liquidity issues or difficulties with counterparties.”
On the whole, hedge funds even saw a 1.2% increase in profits in January, according to data from the HFRI Fund Weighted Composite index.
The agency also noted that GameStop purchases to cover bets were just “a small fraction of overall buy volume,” adding that “GME share prices continued to be high after the direct effects of covering short positions would have waned.”
“The underlying motivation of such buy volume cannot be determined,” the agency concluded. “Perhaps it was motivated by the desire to maintain a short squeeze. Whether driven by [that] desire… or by belief in the fundamentals of GameStop, it was the positive sentiment, not the buying-to-cover, that sustained the weeks-long price appreciation of GameStop stock.”
SEC Not Currently Issuing Any Recommendation
The agency did not offer any policy recommendations with this report, though it did stress that a number of small-time investors who either initially bet against GameStop’s success or tried to ride the wave of gains saw significant losses.
Given that the number of investors trading GameStop rapidly jumped from 10,000 at the beginning of January to 900,000 by the end of the month, it’s not surprising that the FTC confirmed heavy losses for many.
With that in mind, the SEC aligned its next focus on commission-free trading apps and the way in which they promote potentially excessive trading. Notably, that includes apps such as Robinhood and Webull, both of which faced controversy during the frenzy for severely restricting users’ ability to trade so-called memestocks.
“Consideration should be given to whether game-like features and celebratory animations that are likely intended to create positive feedback from trading lead investors to trade more than they would otherwise,” the SEC said in its report.
SEC Chair Gary Gensler said Tuesday that by April, the agency could propose rules limiting how those apps make money from each trade, which is known as “payment for order flow.”