China real estate developer Evergrande is saddled with excessive debt ($300 billion). It overbuilt during China's property boom of the last decade. The company has lost the confidence of bondholders, which don't think it can meet its debt repayments. And it has connections to major asset managers globally that could get hit financially if there is a default.
Sounds sort of similar to the situation that toppled investment bank Lehman Brothers during the Great Recession and sent global asset markets sharply lower for months, no? That comparison to Lehman Brothers is all the rage on Wall Street trading desks as fears over the fate of Evergrande has sent shockwaves through global stock markets this week.
But is it the right comparison?
"No, as of now I would not say this is the kind of thing that has the potential for global contagion in the same way [as Lehman Brothers]," said Steve Sosnick, Interactive Brokers chief strategist, on Yahoo Finance Live. Remember banks and brokerage firms [like Lehman was] are interlinked in ways we can't see with high leverage. This is a highly leveraged real estate developer."
By and large, strategists this journalist has talked with over the past 24 hours have echoed Sosnick's comments. While they acknowledge any missed interest repayment on Thursday by Evergrande to the tune of $83 million would be unwelcome news for markets, they universally agree that this is not a Lehman Brothers liquidity moment.
Recall that back in the heat of the Great Financial Crisis, the bust in Lehman triggered endless waves of selling across almost all asset classes for days. And all of this happened around the world. It was brutal and terrifying to endure (as I did). The Evergrande situation doesn’t have that same feel, strategists argue, and that was seen in bond markets on Monday with Treasuries not getting that true flight to safety bid.
Further, we saw solid buying in cyclical areas of the market — for example, Marriott’s stock finished the session higher as did a few others in the travel space.
"I was making markets in bank and brokerage stock options [during the financial crisis]. I could not keep the volatilities high enough to keep us from getting short and in real trouble. That was not the kind of session we saw on Monday. This was more a garden variety type of sell-off. I think also there was sort of a freezing in the credit markets on that side of things during the financial crisis that is just not happening right now," explained the market veteran Sosnick.
So all-in-all, investors certainly have to respect the current Evergrande situation but be mindful there are other more pressing things for the market to triumph over in the near-term. They include this week’s potentially hawkish Federal Reserve meeting (all eyes on interest rate projections from the dot plots) and contentious talks to raise the debt ceiling.
Add Evergrande to the proverbial wall of worry for stocks to climb entering October.