How China’s Property Crisis Blew Up Bets That Couldn’t Lose

One of China’s largest investment firms, Citic Trust, had a clear pitch to investors when it was aiming to raise $1.7 billion to fund property development in 2020: There is no safer Chinese investment than real estate.

The trust, the investment arm of the state-owned financial conglomerate Citic, called housing “China’s economic ballast” and “an indispensable value investment.” The money it raised would be put toward four projects from Sunac China Holdings, a major developer.

Three years later, investors who put their money in the Citic fund have recouped only a small fraction of their investment. Three of the fund’s construction projects are on hold or significantly delayed because of financing problems or poor sales. Sunac has defaulted and is trying to restructure its debt.

The unraveling of the Citic fund provides a window into the broader problems facing China’s ailing property sector. What started as a housing slump has escalated into a full-blown crisis. The budgets of local governments, which depended on revenue from real estate, have been destabilized. The shock to the country’s financial system has drained China’s capital markets.

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