June 6, 2017 / 2:31 AM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 2-Short-sold and $78 bln in debt, China's Evergrande hits record high

4 Min Read

* Plans to redeem all of its perpetual bonds by end-June

* Shares jump 9 pct, have gained some 260 pct this year

* Evergrande plans Shenzhen backdoor listing for property assets

* Evergrande the most heavily shorted HK stock this month (Recasts, adds short-selling data and analysts comments)

By Clare Jim

HONG KONG, June 6 (Reuters) - Shares in China Evergrande Group stepped up a furious bull run to hit a record high on Tuesday, even as some investors short the stock on concern about its massive debt load.

The country's No. 1 property developer's unveiling of a plan to redeem all of its perpetual bonds has added to positive momentum driven by an imminent backdoor listing for most of its real estate assets in mainland China, fresh capital from strategic investors as well as share buybacks.

The dizzy ascent of its stock - which has more than tripled in value since the end of last year - has so far trampled and continues to threaten a swathe of short-sellers. They are betting that the company's debt, which stood at $78 billion at the end of last year, will precipitate a sharp correction.

"Investors were shorting Evergrande because it has a lot of off-balance sheet items, which is true but Evergrande has plenty of money to support its own shares, so the short sellers are being wiped out," said Francis Lun, CEO of Geo Securities Ltd.

"Unless the shortsellers have more money than Evergrande or the company has used up its cash, it's very hard to compete with them."

The shares climbed as much as 9 percent to HK$17.36 before ending trade 4.8 percent higher.

Evergrande was one of the most heavily shorted Hong Kong stocks over the past month. As of June 2, the most recent date for which data is available, 4.47 percent of Evergrande's outstanding shares were out on loan, according to research firm Markit. Shares on loan are a proxy for short selling.

Evergrande, which has developed thousands of middle class homes in China and owns the country's top football team, said late on Monday that it plans to redeem all of its perpetual bonds, after repaying 71 percent ahead of time. That represents a significant saving in interest costs.

The perpetual bonds, which have an average coupon of 10 percent and have been a target of much investor criticism, cost Evergrande 10.6 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) in interest last year. It has 29 billion yuan of perpetual bonds outstanding.

Morgan Stanley has estimated Evergrande's gearing could drop to 183 percent from 432 percent after repaying the perpetual bonds.

But some analysts said it was not clear how redemption was being funded. Additional debt to replace the perpetual bonds - classed as equity - could actually raise Evergrande's gearing.

"I suspect the redemption of all the perps is through refinancing with other debt, and not a de-leveraging story," said Yin Chin Cheong, Singapore-based credit analyst with CreditSights.

For now, however, most analysts say market sentiment is set to be driven by the Shenzhen backdoor listing, which Evergrande has valued at 198 billion yuan ($29 billion).

The listing, which comes amid a red-hot property market that has pushed up Evergrande's sales, aims to take advantage of higher valuations commanded on the mainland due to a large pool of retail investors. It will also make it easier for Evergrande to raise funds. ($1 = 6.8030 Chinese yuan) (Reporting by Clare Jim; Additional reporting by Michelle Price and Umesh Desai; Editing by Clara Ferreira-Marques and Edwina Gibbs)

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