BEIJING - Embattled Chinese property giant Evergrande on Wednesday suffered a second credit rating downgrade in two days, raising fears the world's most indebted company will default and sending its shares tumbling below their listing price 12 years ago.
The Hong Kong-listed firm has run up a mountain of liabilities totalling more than $300 billion after years of borrowing to fund rapid growth and a string of real estate acquisitions as well as other assets including a Chinese football team.
But the firm has in recent years struggled to service its debts and a crackdown on the property sector by Beijing has made it even harder to raise cash, fuelling concerns it will go bankrupt.
Many analysts warn such an event could have a serious impact on the world's number two economy as the firm -- which claims to employ 200,000 people and indirectly generate 3.8 million jobs in China -- as it would go under leaving hundreds of firms out of pocket.
Still, those worries were increased Wednesday when Fitch cut its rating on the firm to CC, reflecting its view that "a default of some kind appears probable".
"We believe credit risk is high given tight liquidity, declining contracted sales, pressure to address delayed payments to suppliers and contractors, and limited progress on asset disposals," Fitch Ratings added in a statement.
The move came a day after Moody's slashed its rating, indicating it is "likely in, or very near, default", while Goldman Sachs has cut the stock from neutral to sell.
The news sent the firm's shares plunging more than three percent to as low as HK$3.46, lower than their HK$3.50 initial public offering price, before recovering slightly by the break. The company's stock has collapsed arond 75 percent this year alone.
Last week, the group said its total liabilities had swelled to 1.97 trillion yuan ($305 billion) and warned of risks of defaults on borrowings.
Analysts believe that regardless of the group's troubles, Beijing would not likely allow such a behemoth to go to the wall-- instead pushing it to drive down debt and applying pressure for it to reduce its exposure.
It has undergone an asset sale, including offloading stakes in holdings such as a Hong Kong-listed internet business, a regional bank and an onshore property firm. Meanwhile reports have said it is mulling the sale of its Hong Kong headquarters and a large land parcel in the city at a loss.
However, authorities have not yet made clear what their plans for the firm are.