Investors on three continents dumped stocks on Monday, fretting that the governments of the world’s two largest economies — China and the United States — would act in ways that could undercut the nascent global economic recovery.
The Chinese government’s reluctance to step in and save a highly indebted property developer just days before a big interest payment is due signaled to investors that Beijing might break with its longstanding policy of bailing out its homegrown stars.
And in the United States, the globe’s No. 1 economy, investors worried that the Federal Reserve would soon begin cutting back its huge purchases of government bonds, which had helped drive stocks to a series of record highs since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
The sell-off started in Asia and spread to Europe — where exporters to China were slammed — before landing in the United States, where stocks appeared to be heading for their worst performance of the year before a rally at the end of the trading day. The S&P 500 closed down 1.7 percent, its worst daily performance since mid-May, after being down as much as 2.9 percent in the afternoon.
to ignore a variety of issues complicating the recovery — including the emergence of the Delta variant and the supply chain snarls that have bedeviled consumers and manufacturers alike.
But beginning this month, as Evergrande began to teeter and the likelihood of the Fed’s scaling back — or tapering — its bond-buying programs grew, the market’s protective bubble began to deflate. Some U.S. investors are also concerned that tax increases are in the offing — including on share buybacks and corporate profits — to help pay for a spending push by the federal government, the signature piece of which is President Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion budget bill. Separately, Congress also must act to raise the government’s borrowing limit, a politically charged process that has at times thrown markets for a loop.
On Monday, those currents combined, reflecting the interconnectedness of the global markets as investors everywhere sold their holdings.
the rancorous debate about increasing the debt limit was accompanied by a sharp market slump, as representatives in Washington appeared to flirt with the idea of not raising the constraint on borrowing, which would effectively amount to a default on Treasury bonds.
“It’sgoing to be drama for the sake of politics,” said Lisa Shalett, chief investment officer at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. “People don’t like that.”
Living on the South Carolina coast means living under the threat of dangerous weather during storm season. But the added peril of the pandemic made Ann Freeman nervous.
“What do I do if there’s an evacuation or there’s a storm and you have all this coronavirus and problems with hotels?” Ms. Freeman said. “So I said, ‘Maybe now is the time.’”
That’s why Ms. Freeman spent $12,400 last year to install a Generac backup generator at her home on Johns Island, a sea island near the Charleston peninsula. The wait — about three months — seemed long.
But she was lucky: The wait is twice as long now.
Demand for backup generators has soared over the last year, as housebound Americans focused on preparing their homes for the worst, just as a surge of extreme weather ensured many experienced it.
10 deaths in New Orleans are believed to have been tied to the heat. Over the summer, officials in California warned that wildfires might once again force rolling blackouts amid record heat and the threat of wildfire. In February, a deep freeze turned deadly after widespread outages in Texas. Even lower-profile outages — last month, storms in Michigan left almost a million homes and businesses in the dark for up to several days — have many American homeowners buying mini power plants of their own.
The vast majority are made by a single company: Generac, a 62-year-old Waukesha, Wis., manufacturer that accounts for roughly 75 percent of standby home generator sales in the United States. Its dominance of the market and the growing threat posed by increasingly erratic weather have turned it into a Wall Street darling.
climate crises is shifting the priorities of American consumers.
“Instead of a nice-to-have, backup power is increasingly a need-to-have, when you’re working at home,” said Mark Strouse, a J.P. Morgan analyst who covers Generac and other alternative energy stocks.
and Etsy — have shone as a result of Covid-era shocks and economic disruptions. And the vaccine-maker Moderna is the best-performing stock in the S&P 500. But Generac and a few other alternative energy companies have ballooned in value at the same time.
struck in June during a heat wave, and a prediction in the Farmers’ Almanac of another round of storms early next year made the decision easy: It was time to buy a generator.
The 15,000-watt Generac generator was hooked up last week, big enough to keep the house snug if the power goes out this winter. “I’m not going through that again,” Ms. Collins said.
Generac’s sales are up roughly 70 percent over the past year and orders are vastly outpacing production. The new factory in South Carolina — the two others that produce residential generators are in Wisconsin — is up and running and the company plans to employ about 800 people there by the end of the year. Company officials have floated the prospect of adding further manufacturing operations closer to fast-growing markets like California and Texas, J.P. Morgan analysts reported in a recent client note.
Generac seems to need them. Average delivery times for its generators have lengthened during the pandemic.
Despite dominating the home market, Generac could be vulnerable if competitors are able to serve customers faster. Major manufacturers such as the engine-maker Cummins and the heavy equipment company Caterpillar have a relatively small share of the home generator market, but have the expertise to lift production if they see an opportunity. Generac, aware of the potential competition from other players as well as home solar panels and other solutions, has made a series of acquisitions in the battery and energy storage industry, which is emerging as a small but fast-growing source of revenue for the company.
But there’s no doubt about the demand for its core product right now.
After her generator was installed last week, Ms. Collins took a run around the neighborhood and noticed a neighbor unboxing one in the driveway.
None of those transactions took place between late March and May 1, a Fed official said, which would have curbed Mr. Kaplan’s ability to use information about the coming rescue programs to earn a profit.
But the trades drew attention for other reasons. Mr. Conti-Brown pointed out that Mr. Kaplan was buying and selling oil company shares just as the Fed was debating what role it should play in regulating climate-related finance. And everything the Fed did in 2020 — like slashing rates to near zero and buying trillions in government-backed debt — affected the stock market, sending equity prices higher.
“It’s really bad for the Fed, people are going to seize on it to say that the Fed is self-dealing,” said Sam Bell, a founder of Employ America, a group focused on economic policy. “Here’s a guy who influences monetary policy, and he’s making money for himself in the stock market.”
Mr. Perli noted that Mr. Kaplan’s financial activity included trading in a corporate bond exchange-traded fund, which is effectively a bundle of company debt that trades like a stock. The Fed bought shares in that type of fund last year.
Other key policymakers, including the New York Fed president, John C. Williams, reported much less financial activity in 2020, based on disclosures published or provided by their reserve banks. Mr. Williams told reporters on a call on Wednesday that he thought transparency measures around trading activity were critical.
“If you’re asking should those policies be reviewed or changed, I think that’s a broader question that I don’t have a particular answer for right now,” Mr. Williams said.
Washington-based board officials reported some financial activity, but it was more limited. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, reported 41 recorded transactions made by him or on his or his family’s behalf in 2019, and 26 in 2020, but those were typically in index funds and other relatively broad investment strategies. Randal K. Quarles, the Fed’s vice chair for supervision, recorded purchases and sales of Union Pacific stock from 2019 in his 2020 disclosure. Those stocks were assets of Mr. Quarles’s wife and he had no involvement in the transactions, a Fed spokesman said.
For years, start-ups, automakers and other companies have been slowly building chargers, mainly in California and other coastal states where most electric cars are sold. These businesses use different strategies to make money, and auto experts say it is not clear which will succeed. The company with the most stations, ChargePoint, sells chargers to individuals, workplaces, stores, condo and apartment buildings, and businesses with fleets of electric vehicles. It collects subscription fees for software that manages the chargers. Tesla offers charging mainly to get people to buy its cars. And others make money by selling electricity to drivers.
The Transition to Electric Cars
Once the poor cousin to the hip business of making sleek electric cars, the charging industry has been swept up in its own gold rush. Venture capital firms poured nearly $1 billion into charging companies last year, more than the five previous years combined, according to PitchBook. So far in 2021, venture capital investments are up to more than $550 million.
On Wall Street, publicly traded special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, have struck deals to buy eight charging companies out of 26 deals involving electric vehicle and related businesses, according to Dealogic, a research firm. The deals typically include an infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars from big investors like BlackRock.
“It’s early, and folks are trying to wrap their heads around what does the potential look like,” said Gabe Daoud Jr., a managing director and analyst at Cowen, an investment bank.
These businesses could benefit from the infrastructure bill, but it is not clear how the Biden administration would distribute money for charging stations.
Another unanswered question is who will be the Exxon Mobil of the electric car age. It might well be automakers.
Tesla, which makes about two-thirds of the electric cars sold in the United States, has built thousands of chargers, which it made free for early customers. The company could open its network to vehicles made by other automakers by the end of the year, its chief executive, Elon Musk, said in July.
Drew Austin, an entrepreneur and investor, invested heavily in cryptocurrencies and NFTs, including digital horses, digital sports cards and some digital art. He took a “substantial liquidity hit” when cryptocurrency prices crashed in May, he said. But he is not cashing out, because he believes these new assets are the future. Still, the volatility can be stressful. Unlike a stock exchange, these newer markets never close.
“There are nights when I go to bed and I think, Please, God, China, don’t mess this up,” he said using stronger language. “It’s 24/7. It never stops.”
Bitcoin’s volatile month — dropping by around 65 percent in May, recovering some and then falling further this week — has not swayed investor enthusiasm. A recent survey by The Ascent, a financial services ratings site, showed that Generation Z investors viewed cryptocurrencies as slightly less risky than individual stocks.
But they’re learning that wild price swings can happen over a single tweet. In February and March, when Elon Musk and his company, Tesla, embraced Bitcoin, its price soared. In May, when Mr. Musk tweeted that Tesla would not accept Bitcoin payments over concerns with its environment impact, its price dropped.
It jumped again this week when Mr. Musk suggested on Twitter that Tesla would again accept Bitcoin someday. (His tweets have also propelled Dogecoin, a joke cryptocurrency based on a meme about a Shiba Inu.)
The sustained appetite for risky bets has fueled companies, like Robinhood, that enable customers to trade stocks, options and cryptocurrencies. In January, Robinhood’s role in the trading of meme stocks landed it in hot water with Congress, state regulators and its customers.
The attention only turbocharged Robinhood’s growth: Revenue more than tripled in the first three months of 2021 compared with the same period last year. Robinhood plans to go public in the coming months.
In the story of how the modern world was constructed, Toyota stands out as the mastermind of a monumental advance in industrial efficiency. The Japanese automaker pioneered so-called Just In Time manufacturing, in which parts are delivered to factories right as they are required, minimizing the need to stockpile them.
Over the last half-century, this approach has captivated global business in industries far beyond autos. From fashion to food processing to pharmaceuticals, companies have embraced Just In Time to stay nimble, allowing them to adapt to changing market demands, while cutting costs.
But the tumultuous events of the past year have challenged the merits of paring inventories, while reinvigorating concerns that some industries have gone too far, leaving them vulnerable to disruption. As the pandemic has hampered factory operations and sown chaos in global shipping, many economies around the world have been bedeviled by shortages of a vast range of goods — from electronics to lumber to clothing.
In a time of extraordinary upheaval in the global economy, Just In Time is running late.
“It’s sort of like supply chain run amok,” said Willy C. Shih, an international trade expert at Harvard Business School. “In a race to get to the lowest cost, I have concentrated my risk. We are at the logical conclusion of all that.”
shortage of computer chips — vital car components produced mostly in Asia. Without enough chips on hand, auto factories from India to the United States to Brazil have been forced to halt assembly lines.
But the breadth and persistence of the shortages reveal the extent to which the Just In Time idea has come to dominate commercial life. This helps explain why Nike and other apparel brands struggle to stock retail outlets with their wares. It’s one of the reasons construction companies are having trouble purchasing paints and sealants. It was a principal contributor to the tragic shortages of personal protective equipment early in the pandemic, which left frontline medical workers without adequate gear.
a shortage of lumber that has stymied home building in the United States.
Suez Canal this year, closing the primary channel linking Europe and Asia.
“People adopted that kind of lean mentality, and then they applied it to supply chains with the assumption that they would have low-cost and reliable shipping,” said Mr. Shih, the Harvard Business School trade expert. “Then, you have some shocks to the system.”
An Idea That Went ‘Way Too Far’
presentation for the pharmaceutical industry. It promised savings of up to 50 percent on warehousing if clients embraced its “lean and mean” approach to supply chains.
Such claims have panned out. Still, one of the authors of that presentation, Knut Alicke, a McKinsey partner based in Germany, now says the corporate world exceeded prudence.
“We went way too far,” Mr. Alicke said in an interview. “The way that inventory is evaluated will change after the crisis.”
Many companies acted as if manufacturing and shipping were devoid of mishaps, Mr. Alicke added, while failing to account for trouble in their business plans.
“There’s no kind of disruption risk term in there,” he said.
Experts say that omission represents a logical response from management to the incentives at play. Investors reward companies that produce growth in their return on assets. Limiting goods in warehouses improves that ratio.
study. These savings helped finance another shareholder-enriching trend — the growth of share buybacks.
In the decade leading up to the pandemic, American companies spent more than $6 trillion to buy their own shares, roughly tripling their purchases, according to a study by the Bank for International Settlements. Companies in Japan, Britain, France, Canada and China increased their buybacks fourfold, though their purchases were a fraction of their American counterparts.
Repurchasing stock reduces the number of shares in circulation, lifting their value. But the benefits for investors and executives, whose pay packages include hefty allocations of stock, have come at the expense of whatever the company might have otherwise done with its money — investing to expand capacity, or stockpiling parts.
These costs became conspicuous during the first wave of the pandemic, when major economies including the United States discovered that they lacked capacity to quickly make ventilators.
“When you need a ventilator, you need a ventilator,” Mr. Sodhi said. “You can’t say, ‘Well, my stock price is high.’”
When the pandemic began, car manufacturers slashed orders for chips on the expectation that demand for cars would plunge. By the time they realized that demand was reviving, it was too late: Ramping up production of computer chips requires months.
stock analysts on April 28. The company said the shortages would probably derail half of its production through June.
The automaker least affected by the shortage is Toyota. From the inception of Just In Time, Toyota relied on suppliers clustered close to its base in Japan, making the company less susceptible to events far away.
‘It All Cascades’
In Conshohocken, Pa., Mr. Romano is literally waiting for his ship to come in.
He is vice president of sales at Van Horn, Metz & Company, which buys chemicals from suppliers around the world and sells them to factories that make paint, ink and other industrial products.
In normal times, the company is behind in filling perhaps 1 percent of its customers’ orders. On a recent morning, it could not complete a tenth of its orders because it was waiting for supplies to arrive.
The company could not secure enough of a specialized resin that it sells to manufacturers that make construction materials. The American supplier of the resin was itself lacking one element that it purchases from a petrochemical plant in China.
One of Mr. Romano’s regular customers, a paint manufacturer, was holding off on ordering chemicals because it could not locate enough of the metal cans it uses to ship its finished product.
“It all cascades,” Mr. Romano said. “It’s just a mess.”
No pandemic was required to reveal the risks of overreliance on Just In Time combined with global supply chains. Experts have warned about the consequences for decades.
In 1999, an earthquake shook Taiwan, shutting down computer chip manufacturing. The earthquake and tsunami that shattered Japan in 2011 shut down factories and impeded shipping, generating shortages of auto parts and computer chips. Floods in Thailand the same year decimated production of computer hard drives.
Each disaster prompted talk that companies needed to bolster their inventories and diversify their suppliers.
Each time, multinational companies carried on.
The same consultants who promoted the virtues of lean inventories now evangelize about supply chain resilience — the buzzword of the moment.
Simply expanding warehouses may not provide the fix, said Richard Lebovitz, president of LeanDNA, a supply chain consultant based in Austin, Texas. Product lines are increasingly customized.
“The ability to predict what inventory you should keep is harder and harder,” he said.
Ultimately, business is likely to further its embrace of lean for the simple reason that it has yielded profits.
“The real question is, ‘Are we going to stop chasing low cost as the sole criteria for business judgment?’” said Mr. Shih, from Harvard Business School. “I’m skeptical of that. Consumers won’t pay for resilience when they are not in crisis.”
In the near future, giant index funds, those low-cost investments that have helped millions of people to build nest eggs, will gain “practical power over the majority of U.S. public companies.”
That nightmarish vision originated in a prescient 2018 paper by John Coates.
Mr. Coates was a professor of Harvard Law School when he laid out his argument — one that I share. Now, he is a policymaker. In February, he became acting director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s division of corporation finance. Under the new reform-minded S.E.C. chairman, Gary Gensler, Mr. Coates is in a position to address the problems he has analyzed so painstakingly.
Neither Mr. Coates nor Mr. Gensler was available for an interview, but in that paper, Mr. Coates laid out his views. Index funds, which simply track the market and make no attempt to outperform it, are so effective and cheap, he said, that they have become the investment vehicle of choice for trillions of dollars of assets. Yet under current rules, it is the index fund executives, not the millions of people who invest in them, who have the power to cast proxy votes.
Those votes are the heart of a system intended to give investors a voice on crucial matters like how much the chief executive is paid or whether a company is damaging the environment.
wrote in December 2019, that lack of proxy voting capability leaves vast numbers of investors out of the equation, and gives corporations inordinate power. Consider that roughly half of all American households, comprising tens of millions of people, have a stake in the stock market. But most own equities indirectly through funds — mainly index funds.
That leaves fund managers with the decisive power over corporate governance, and the biggest fund companies have sided with management roughly 90 percent of the time.
As Mr. Coates wrote in 2018, “Control of most public companies — that is, the wealthiest organizations in the world, with more revenue than most states — will soon be concentrated in the hands of a dozen or fewer people.” The title of his paper was “The Problem of Twelve,” referring to the unelected leaders of index fund operations.
What’s worse, mutual fund companies are frequently conflicted. Many receive revenue from public traded corporations for providing financial services connected to retirement plans, yet have the responsibility of casting critical votes on how those companies are run. Scholars like Mr. Coates have worried about these conflicts for years.
study, “Uncovering Conflict of Interests: Proxy Voting Data Reveals Bias for Asset Managers to Favor Clients,” was done by the group As You Sow, which files for shareholder proposals on issues such as the environment, gender and racial diversity, and executive pay.
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The group based its finding on an analysis of 9.6 million proxy votes by fund companies, along with Labor Department records that show how much fund companies were paid for retirement plan services.
“The big fund companies have a massive aggregation of power that comes from the investments of their shareholders,” said Andrew Behar, chief executive of As You Sow. “At the very least, the fund companies shouldn’t be allowed to vote if they have conflicts of interest.”
Such apparent conflicts are permitted under current rules, as Mr. Coates noted in his 2018 paper. There are many possible regulatory solutions, but the fundamental cure would be to take proxy voting power away from the fund companies and put it in the hands of millions of fund shareholders. That change would be especially important for investors in broad-based index funds, which mirror the stock market and cannot divest shares of individual companies.
Say you don’t want to put money into Exxon Mobil because you disagree with its approach to climate change. If you own shares in an S&P 500 index fund, you will have an indirect stake in Exxon nonetheless. And if you hold the fund in a workplace retirement account, you may be stuck. Only 3 percent of 401(k) plans include investment options based on what are known in the industry as environmental, social and governance (E.S.G.) principles, according to the research firm Morningstar, a research firm that rates funds.
Reflecting widespread concern about climate change, fund companies appear to be shifting some of their proxy votes, Morningstar said. BlackRock, headed by Larry Fink, has called for a speedy transition to a “net zero economy” and Vanguard in April adopted guidelines that may lead to more “E.S.G.-friendly” votes, said Jackie Cook, director of investment stewardship research at Morningstar.
INDEX, has taken a small step that could have revolutionary implications: This year, it has begun asking shareholders how they want to vote.
Index Proxy Polling,” an easy way for shareholders to convey their preferences on proxy votes for S&P 500 companies. The aim is to demonstrate how shareholders in an index fund could express their opinions.
So far, only about 100 investors have participated, said Mike Willis, the fund manager, and current S.E.C. regulations require him to make the final voting decisions on behalf of the fund. But he said he hoped the S.E.C. would eventually allow him “to move to real shareholder democracy and go to pass-through voting, in which the shareholders say what they want and we just cast the vote for them.”
I commend Mr. Willis for his innovative approach, but note that this is not a typical index fund. It is an equal-weighted version of the S&P 500: It gives equal emphasis to big and small companies, so it may underperform the market when giants like Apple boom, and do better than the standard index when smaller companies excel. Its expense ratio of 0.25 percent is reasonable but not as low as some of the giant funds.
If experiments like this catch on, they could help to move the markets closer to something resembling shareholder democracy. But legislators and regulators — people like Mr. Coates and Mr. Gensler — will need to weigh in, too, if we are to avert a future in which the voices of investors are muffled and giant corporations are dominated by even more powerful index funds.
Shares of Oatly soared 30 percent on Thursday as investors jumped at the chance to take part in rapid changes in the food industry driven by consumer tastes shifting to plant-based products.
The company, which makes an alternative to dairy milk based on oats, priced its initial public offering Wednesday night on the high end of its range, giving the company a value of about $10 billion. Shares were priced at $17 and began trading at $22.12 on the Nasdaq under the ticker “OTLY.”
The offering comes as money is flooding into the food tech space, with investors eager to catch a ride on the next Beyond Meat — the vegan food company valued at about $6.6 billion by public investors. And investors have put a heightened focus on companies like Oatly that say they meet environmental, social and governance standards.
“Long term, it’s an opportunity for us to create a fantastic shareholder base,” Oatly’s chief executive, Toni Petersson, said of the offering. “So E.S.G. was definitely a huge, huge part of it — so we’re excited, we’re really excited, about the outcome here.”
complained about Oatly’s marketing around its use of sugar. But Oatly has no plans to address its sugar content.
“We’re just replicating what nature does before it enters your stomach,” Mr. Petersson said in describing the process of making oatmilk.
Tesla was one of the worst-performing stocks in the market on Wednesday, tumbling more than 4 percent. The company had once positioned itself as a prominent supporter of cryptocurrencies, and in March, it announced that it would accept Bitcoin in exchange for cars, helping to set off a surge in the asset.
Last week, Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, reversed that decision, citing concerns about the energy consumption needed to produce cryptocurrencies. That process, known as mining, involves a using computers to create new Bitcoin by having them solve complex computational problems.
The hard drive maker Seagate Technology — which has a stake in cryptocurrency company Ripple, the creator of the XRP currency — tumbled more than 2 percent. Shares of Seagate and Western Digital, another maker of hard drives, had been on a tear in recent days, as analysts spotlighted surging demand for its computer products, in part, from cryptocurrency miners. Western Digital was down nearly 3 percent.
Bitcoin wasn’t the only element moving the markets. Crude oil tumbled roughly 4 percent, on lingering concerns that the still-spreading coronavirus in India, as well as Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan, could prompt new restrictions that could curtail economic activity.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index was 1.5 percent lower, while the FTSE 100 in Britain was down 1.3 percent. Stock markets in Asia ended the day mainly lower, with the Nikkei in Japan down by 1.3 percent.
Volatility in the stock markets lately has been driven by sentiment about inflation. Investors are nervous that a jump in prices —coming as global economies reopen and as the government continues to pump stimulus funds to spur growth — could push the Federal Reserve and other central banks to raise interest rates or take other measures to cool growth. That would be bad news for riskier investments like stocks.
The Fed and other central banks have said they see the recent increases as transitory caused partly by supply chain issues as economies revive from lockdowns, and that they have no plans to remove emergency support for the economy.
Federal Reserve policymakers will release the minutes from their April meeting on Wednesday.
HONG KONG — BlackRock gave it money. So did Goldman Sachs.
Foreign investors had good reason to trust Huarong, the sprawling Chinese financial conglomerate. Even as its executives showed a perilous appetite for risky borrowing and lending, the investors believed they could depend on Beijing to bail out the state-owned company if things ever got too dicey. That’s what China had always done.
Now some of those same foreign investors may need to think twice. Huarong is more than $40 billion in debt to foreign and domestic investors and shows signs of stumbling. The Chinese government, which has stayed quiet about a rescue, is in the early stages of planning a reorganization that will require foreign and Chinese bondholders alike to accept significant losses on their investments, according to two people familiar with the government’s plans.
Beijing has spent decades bailing out Chinese companies that got in over their heads, but in recent years has vowed to turn off the tap. While regulators have promised to make an example out of financial institutions that gorged on loans and waited for the government to foot the bill, Huarong is testing the limits of that resolve.
Unlike the handful of small banks and state-owned companies that have been allowed to fall apart, Huarong is a central part of China’s financial system and, some say, “too big to fail.” Its vulnerable status has left China’s leaders with a difficult choice: let it default and pierce investor faith in the government as a lender of last resort, or bail it out and undermine efforts to tame the ballooning debt threatening the wider economy.
highly unusual punishment that experts said was meant to send a message.
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Mr. Lai confessed to accepting $277 million in bribes, telling state television that he had kept $30 million cash in safes around his apartment in Beijing, which he referred to as his “supermarket.”
Chinese regulators fear the corruption shown by Mr. Lai has become so embedded in Huarong’s business practice that assessing the full extent of its losses and the collateral damage from a possible default is a challenge.
“The scale and amount of money involved in Lai Xiaomin’s case is shocking,” said Li Xinran, a regulator at the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.“This shows that the current situation of the fight against corruption in the financial sector is still serious and complex. The task of preventing and resolving financial risks is still very difficult.”
said that it would delay publishing its annual results in March. It delayed its annual results a second time last month, raising worries about the state of its financial health and its ability to repay investors.
Any situation where Huarong is unable to repay in full its investors would ripple through some of the world’s biggest and most high profile investment firms. As the international financial market grappled with that scenario, the bonds recently went into a tailspin.
This year alone, Huarong owes $3.4 billion to foreign investors. After it delayed releasing its annual results, the bonds sold for as little as 60 cents for every dollar. In Hong Kong, its stock was suspended.
It is already very late for a big corporate reorganization, said Larry Hu, head of the China economics desk at Macquarie Group. “Huarong has already become too big to fail,” he said. “It is no longer a fix to the problem, but the problem itself.”
The government’s latest plan, which has not yet been reported, is likely to roil China’s corporate market. Last month,the broader market for Chinese companies started to wobble as anxious investors began to consider a possible contagion effect.
Chinese companies owe nearly $500 billion in loans to foreign investors. A Huarong default could lead some international bondholders to sell their bonds in Chinese state-owned enterprises, and make it more difficult for Chinese companies to borrow from foreign investors, a critical source of funding.
Concerns about the company’s ability to raise fresh money prompted two ratings agency to put Huarong on a “watch” notice — a type of warning that means its debt could be downgraded, a move that would make its ability to borrow even more costly.
“There is no playbook for this,” said Logan Wright, director of China research at Rhodium Group, a consulting firm. China’s regulators are now faced with the challenge of following through with a promise to clean up the financial system while also preventing a possible meltdown, he said.
“You’re pitting Beijing’s new rhetoric that they are cracking down against the assumption that they will ensure the stability of the system,” he said.
The government is likely to inject some money into whatever reorganized company eventually emerges from Huarong’s difficulties, but it is not prepared to inject enough money to pay off all of the bonds, the two people familiar with the government’s plans said.
Even as the government crafts a plan to downsize Huarong, the company has sought to calm investors’ nerves, promising that it can pay its bills.Speaking to state media, Xu Yongli, vice president of Huarong, likened his firm to other critically important Chinese financial institutions.
“The government support received by Huarong is no different,” he said.
Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li reported from Hong Kong and Keith Bradsher reported from Beijing.