Have China property prices turned a corner?

by Jonathan Adams

hina’s home prices edged up a tad in October, posting the first on-year gains in more than a year.

New home prices were up 0.1 percent on-year, after falling 0.9 percent on-year in September, according to Reuters calculations based on the official data. They also rose 0.2 percent on-month in October, slowing a smidgen from September’s 0.3 percent rise, the calculations show.

But those relatively small increments mask huge jumps in Tier-one cities, with Beijing’s new home prices up 6.5 percent on-year, Shanghai’s up 10.9 percent and Shenzhen’s surging nearly 40 percent, Reuters data show.

“Home prices in China are in a very nice upward trajectory. I would say the nationwide statistics don’t show the extent that home prices have rebounded in tier one and tier two cities,” Erwin Sanft, head of China strategy at Macquarie, told CNBC in Hong Kong Wednesday after the data were released.

“It’s good news for China’s property market. It’s good news for the economy. But it does constrain what the authorities can do in terms of stimulus,” he said, adding that authorities realize allowing property prices to rise too much would be a negative.

China property is a closely watched barometer for the mainland economy. The sector makes up around 15 percent of the China’s gross domestic product (GDP), so any slowdown has widespread implications for the greater economy.

Anecdotal evidence indicates the country still suffers from high vacancy rates in some regions, spurring accusations from China skeptics of a property bubble, but these so-called ghost towns are generally located well outside China’s largest cities.

China’s overall property market has shown signs of stabilizing, even in the more stagnant residential sector, with the government backtracking on some cooling measures it put in place to calm the previously overheated market. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has also cut interest rates six times since November 2014.

Minimum down payments for second home buyers have already been cut three times this year, a move Moody’s calls credit positive for property developers amid expectations for higher housing sales. Meanwhile, March saw the finance ministry exempt sellers from a transaction tax if they had owned the property for two years.

In the first nine months of the year, nationwide sales of new residential properties [excluding government-funded affordable housing] increased 18.2 percent on-year in price and 8.2 percent on-year by area, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

But Macquarie’s Sanft believes there could be tightening measures on the cards for China property, citing surging prices in the tier-one and -two cities.

“Last weekend, across the border in Shenzhen, we had an entire development sell out in six hours. It set a record in terms of a single day transaction value,” he noted. “The property market in China is overbuilt. Generally, structurally, it should be in a downward trend in the coming years.”

In Shenzhen, unlisted developer China Horay sold 1,637 residential units in six hours, fetching around 6 billion yuan and selling out the development on launch day, Macquarie said in a report last week, citing local media.

But concerns about the potential for overheating hasn’t stopped two of the country’s largest property developers from heading to Shanghai’s equity market. Guangzhou R&F Properties is seeking to raise around 35 billion yuan, while Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties is targeting around 12 billion yuan in new Shanghai listings, Reuters reported Wednesday. Both are already listed in Hong Kong.

The new listings come after China last month announced that it would lift the suspension of initial public offerings (IPO) that it imposed in July in the wake of a multi-month stock market crash.

To be sure, not everyone believes China’s housing recovery will run out of steam.

“This is a pretty sustainable recovery into 2016,” Wee Liat Lee, head of Asia-Pacific property research at BNP Paribas, told CNBC.

Lee is looking at the 30-50 drop in new land sales in 100 key cities in China as well as the 20-30 percent drop in construction starts by developers. He also noted that around 85 percent of current homebuyers are taking a loan, suggesting they are first- or second-time homebuyers, compared with three years ago, when 50 percent of homebuyers paid in cash, an indicator they were investors.

“As you move into 2016, the demand supply dynamics will move in favor of demand being better and supply being gradually weeded out. So actually I predict that more cities will have price increases next year,” Lee said.

This article is for information purposes only.
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