China Major Cities Home Prices Jump, Fanning Bubble Concerns

Home prices in China’s four major cities jumped the most since January 2011, heightening concerns a bubble is forming as the government refrains from introducing more property curbs that would hinder economic growth.

New home prices in September rose 20 percent in the southern business hubs of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, 17 percent in Shanghai and 16 percent in Beijing from a year earlier as prices climbed in 69 of the 70 cities the government tracks.

Property stocks fell in Shanghai on speculation Premier Li Keqiang will be forced to impose stricter policies to rein in prices and limit risks to the economy. Li has held off tightened restrictions on property this year as his government strives to meet a 7.5 percent annual economic growth target.

“Home prices, especially in big cities, are a bit out of control,” said Liu Li-Gang, a Hong Kong-based economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., in a phone interview today. “China’s facing an increasing risk of a property bubble.”

A gauge tracking property stocks on the Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.5 percent at the close of trading, compared with a 0.8 percent drop in the benchmark.

Economic Growth

Chinese policy makers may be wary of clamping down on property just as increased construction is boosting the odds of the nation reaching a goal this year of a 7.5 percent economic expansion.

While growth picked up to 7.8 percent in the third quarter, reversing a two-quarter slowdown, JPMorgan Chase & Co. economist Zhu Haibin said after an Oct. 18 report on gross domestic product that the recovery momentum was “not likely to last long.”

Officials are wrestling with controlling risks from shadow banking and local-government debt. Exports unexpectedly fell in September, a decline that reflected limits on global demand as well as distortions caused by past fake invoicing. The government is rolling out fiscal stimulus, such as spending on building railways and replacing shanty towns, to support growth while resisting cuts in interest rates or bank reserve requirements.

The increase in gross domestic product may slow to 7.1 percent next year from 7.6 percent this year as the government focuses on rebalancing the economy and implementing reforms, Barclays Plc analysts Chang Jian and Joey Chew wrote in a research note on Oct. 18 after the third-quarter data release.

Fine Balance

While China is facing increasing pressure of tightening the property market, “we won’t see a drastic set of curbing moves,” Xu Gao, Beijing-based chief economist at Everbright Securities Co. who formerly worked at the World Bank, said in a phone interview today. “Property is just such an important sector for China. If home prices fall, the economy will certainly slump. The government is trying to find a balance.”

Property investment and related industries account for one-third of the economy, according to Xu.

Premier Li has come up with no additional measures to rein in property prices since his predecessor Wen Jiabao stepped up a three-year campaign in March to cool the housing market, ordering the central bank to raise down-payment requirements for second mortgages in cities with excessive cost gains. Some Chinese cities are facing increasing pressure to meet annual home-price targets they set earlier this year and to cap gains at the growth rate of local disposable incomes.

Land Sales

Domestic loans to developers jumped 50 percent last month from a year earlier, according to Shanghai-based advisory firm CEBM Group, which used government data to make its calculations.

A residential land parcel in Beijing sold for a record 73,000 yuan ($11,980) per square meter (10.76 square feet) on Sept. 4, according to Centaline Property Agency Ltd. Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd., based in Hong Kong, bought a site in Shanghai for 21.8 billion yuan in an auction the next day, a record price in that city, Centaline said.

“Developers have been able to access cheaper liquidity, which financed their land acquisitions,” ANZ’s Liu said. “Homebuyers dashed into the market fearing that home prices will rise further given the high land prices.”

For the fifth month in a row, the eastern city of Wenzhou was the only one to post a decline, with prices dropping 1.7 percent from last year, the National Bureau of Statistics said in the statement today.

Existing home prices rose 18 percent in Beijing last month from a year earlier, followed by a 14 percent increase in Shenzhen and 12 percent in Shanghai, according to the data.

Developer Sales

Private data also has shown rising housing values. Home prices jumped 9.5 percent from a year earlier last month, the biggest gain since December, according to SouFun Holdings Ltd., China’s biggest real estate website owner.

The value of home sales rose 34 percent in September from the previous month to 691.1 billion yuan, the statistics bureau reported on Oct. 18.

Developers including Sunac China Holdings Ltd. and Greentown China Holdings Ltd. said last week that they will exceed home-sales targets for the year.

Investors and homebuyers shouldn’t hold high expectations ahead of the Communist Party meeting in November that President Xi Jinping and his leadership team are preparing to discuss deepening reforms, because specific housing measures are unlikely to come out from the meeting, Sunac Chairman Sun Hongbin said on Oct. 17.

Some cities have already issued tightening measures as home prices gained too quickly. Lv Ruifeng, deputy mayor of Shenzhen, has asked his government to strictly implement restrictions on home purchases and housing loans, according to a statement on the city government’s website on Oct. 11.

“The government aimed to tighten the market through financial measures, but that has had very little effect,” Joe Zhou, head of east China research at broker Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., said before today’s release. “Homebuyers, who purchase places to live in, or those so-called real-demand buyers, will not give up buying simply because of the rising borrowing costs.”

— With assistance by Bonnie Cao

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