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The self-made Chinese billionaire battling to save debt-mired Evergrande

Xu Jiayin
Xu Jiayin. (Photo: AFP)
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BEIJING — From rural poverty to real estate billions, the fortunes of Xu Jiayin tracked China's runaway growth for much of the past two decades — but now he is battling to save his Evergrande conglomerate from a quagmire of debt.اضافة اعلان

The 62-year-old — also known as Hui Ka Yan in Cantonese — was at one point China's richest man, with a taste for luxury labels, exclusive yachts and a nose for praising the Communist Party that steered the economy to a home ownership boom.

But Evergrande is sagging under hundreds of billions of dollars of debt as fears mount of an imminent collapse that could ricochet across the world's second-biggest economy.

"China's property developers — and their creditors — appear to be approaching a reckoning," said analysts at Capital Economics in a note.
They warned Evergrande is "close to collapse" with large losses looming for banks, bondholders and home buyers.

Total liabilities had swelled to 1.97 trillion yuan ($305 billion), the embattled group said last week, warning of the risk of default.

Evergrande started to falter under the new "three red lines" imposed on developers in a state crackdown in August 2020 — forcing the group to offload properties at increasingly steep discounts.

Xu's ascent mirrored China, rocketing from a largely rural and impoverished society to the gargantuan economy it is today.

The now-billionaire, whose mother died when he was a year old, recalled in a 2017 speech how he ate just sweet potato and steamed bread throughout his school years.

"The sheets I laid, the quilts I covered, and the clothes I wore were all covered with piles of patches," Xu said.

"At that time, my greatest wish was to go out of the countryside, find a job and be able to eat better food."

After leaving school in 1976 — the end of the decade-long Cultural Revolution — he struggled to find work.

As colleges reopened, Xu studied metallurgy and was later assigned to a state-run steel factory.

He left in 1992 for Shenzhen, the buzzing heart of China's reform and opening-up experiment in the 1990s, before founding Evergrande in 1996.

$60 million superyacht

All 323 apartments in the firm's first completed project sold in half a day, and raked in 80 million yuan.

Evergrande threw itself into mass development, building in-demand apartments across China and capitalizing on its rapid wealth accumulation.

The group listed in Hong Kong in 2009, raising HK$70.5 billion ($9 billion) in its initial public offering, making it China's largest private real estate company and making Xu the mainland's richest man with a net worth of 42.2 billion yuan.

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