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It was considered the gold standard in China’s increasingly shaky housing market. Now investors are treating Country Garden, the giant property developer, like a ticking time bomb.

The company, China’s last major real estate giant to avoid default, has hinted at its financial troubles for weeks. On Thursday night, it was more direct: Country Garden said it expected a loss of up to $7.6 billion over the first six months of this year.

The company’s shares, which trade in Hong Kong, took a dive on Friday, dragging its value to new depths. The stock is trading around one Hong Kong dollar, or about 13 cents U.S.

The pessimism was not limited to the markets.

Commenters on Chinese social media expressed their shock — and anger — at the drumbeat of bad news about China’s housing market. Many invoked the memory of another property giant, China Evergrande, that landed in default two years ago, marking the start of a wave chain of property flameouts.

“Another real estate giant is going to fall. Evergrande collapsed, will Country Garden be next?” Guo Guosong, an author and former journalist, wrote in a comment.

Others piled on, and the conversation online lit up by early afternoon, when more than 100 million people had viewed the comments under the hashtag “Evergrande is insolvent.”

For years, Chinese developers took on huge piles of debt to expand into cities around the country, selling apartments before they were completed. Along the way, their top executives joined the ranks of Asia’s richest tycoons. Evergrande’s failure in 2021 put a spotlight on the industry’s practices when it set off a cascade of similar collapses in real estate, and millions of people were left with unfinished apartments.

“These real estate tycoons are making a lot of money, but the company is in a mess, the money goes into their pockets and the mess is the government’s,” wrote Sun Guoyu, whose verified social media account said he was the chairman of a company called Shenzhen Neteye Holdings.

“Systemic problems, ordinary people pay the bill,” he added.

The pent-up public anger over China’s housing sector has been years in the making and has spilled out onto the streets at times. But the fate of Country Garden, one of the country’s last standing giants and a company that had been seen as a more responsible player, appears to have been behind Friday’s torrent of frustration. Some wondered: What happened to the money that home buyers gave to the property developers, since there are so few finished apartments to show for it?

That Country Garden is on the brink of collapse has alarmed economists and market watchers, who fret that China’s policymakers, even after pledging to bolster the housing market, have lost control. Some weighed in on the conversation online on Friday.

“The severe winter of the real estate industry has come,” wrote An Guanglu, an author based in Shaanxi Province.

“Let’s see who can survive.”

Li You contributed research.

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