By Nathaniel Taplin and Samuel Shen
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC), the main underwriter for a defaulted bond by shipbuilder Evergreen Industries Holding Group, will hold a second meeting with debt investors this week following accusations it failed to fulfill due diligence and disclosure requirements.
Evergreen’s default in May, along with those of several other prominent state-owned companies recently, have raised concerns that local governments and Beijing will not bailout bondholders, leading angry investors to train their fire on underwriters instead.
ICBC posted a notice announcing the meeting on Friday in the coastal city of Ningbo on the website of one of China’s main bond clearinghouses.
But in a separate letter to ICBC seen by Reuters, bondholders demanded that ICBC headquarters, rather than the underwriting Ningbo branch, take charge of the meeting and explain why financial and legal problems at Evergreen subsidiaries were not disclosed earlier.
Although an Evergreen subsidiary failed to repay a 49.4 million yuan ($7.49 million) loan to China Merchants Bank in December, Evergreen did not publicly disclose this information to bond investors until March. Evergreen also had several outstanding bank loans with ICBC in early 2016, Shanghai Clearinghouse documents show.
“What was ICBC doing during all this time,” said an Evergreen bondholder who attended the original post-default bondholder meeting on May 17 in Ningbo.
“Were they acting in the interest of their own outstanding loans, or the interest of bondholders?”
Bondholders are also angry that Evergreen’s May 2015 prospectus failed to mention a corruption investigation at Evergreen’s Canadian unit MagIndustries Corp in early 2015. MagIndustries was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange in August.
A media spokeswoman at ICBC headquarters reached by phone declined to comment, while faxed request for comment also went unanswered. Guo Mengjin, an employee in the legal department of ICBC’s Ningbo branch, also declined to comment.
Zhao Xiabo, listed as Evergreen’s contact person for the bondholders’ meeting announcement, told Reuters: “Our business has not been doing well for the past five or six years and the overall financing environment is not good.”
“Those investors know that they can’t get any more money from us. And there have been precedents that investors could get money from underwriters.”
After years of investors assuming that nearly all corporate bonds enjoyed implicit government support, defaults have jumped sharply over the past year and a half.
A top International Monetary Fund official warned on Tuesday that China needs to quickly tackle its enormous corporate debt burden, now estimated at around 145 percent of gross domestic product. ($1 = 6.5925 Chinese yuan)
(Additional reporting by the Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)