Cooling home market offers chance to clinch a deal

By Li Hong Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/15 20:48:39

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

The surge in home prices in China's mega cities, Beijing and Shenzhen in particular, has paused, following a sharp rise last year, and this offers a brief window for would-be homeowners and property investors to clinch a deal.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences recently released a report saying home prices in Beijing dipped 4.09 percent month-on-month in May. They declined by an even larger magnitude in Shenzhen, while prices in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Tianjin, Xiamen, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Hefei and other major cities have all come down.

This is definitely heartening news for the large number of prospective homeowners - Chinese and foreigners alike - who have longed to settle in the country's largest metropolises, in the hope of grabbing some of the high-paying job opportunities and sizzling metro dynamic that can be found there.

The abrupt tapering-off of the steady housing price leaps since 2010 is also giving many of these potential buyers sleepless nights. This is understandable. They have a pent-up inner urge to buy a property as soon as possible, but there is also the perpetual human psychology that urges them to wait for even deeper price dives.

Surely there will be more price volatilities in the market, but with the government's efforts to curb home price rises having taken effect, the coming few months could be the best opportunity to make a deal, analysts say.

The dip in property prices is the direct result of the government's harsh measures, such as curbing bank loans and even setting price ceilings for apartments, condos and villas.

The Chinese central bank's credit-tightening policy implemented since early 2017 - which was aimed at deleveraging and reducing debt financing - is also taking a toll on property prices, as tight liquidity and elevated rates dampen people's chances of gaining inexpensive mortgages.

As home prices have stabilized, the government and the central bank will be gauging the market meticulously. By no means will Chinese policymakers tolerate a crash or meltdown in the property market, like what happened in the US in 2008-09 and in Japan in the 1990s, which caused a global financial crisis and Japan's "lost decades" respectively.

Pundits claim a 15 percent price decrease from the peak is the most that the top leadership will tolerate. If it goes beyond that, we could anticipate the government easing the current curbs on housing transactions and the central bank may ease credit, because no one wants to see "a sparkle causing a blaze."

China is vigilant, and has ample means to resist a home price plunge.

If the curbs on housing investment are lifted, there could follow a torrent of private funds flowing into the market. Market watchers say that demand for good homes in first- and second-tier Chinese cities is still strong, as the country's 1.4 billion population won't peak until 2030, and the government has revised its one-child policy to encourage two-child families.

Also, as the economy maintains its growing impetus, urbanization is not expected to decelerate before 2030. If history is the guide, large cities - like New York, Washington DC, Chicago and Los Angeles in the US - are likely to be magnets attracting swarms of new residents.

Globally, home prices always gain from strong employment, income and population growth. So, it would be unwise to anticipate a 20 percent or greater price drop in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and other major Chinese cities. A dive nearing the 15 percent mark would be appropriate.

Taking the market on the other side of the Pacific as a mirror, US home prices are growing at the fastest rate now in three years, especially in the Pacific Northwest and Texas. If not for China's macro control measures to quash investment, home prices might have skyrocketed further.

Economists say that the People's Bank of China is fully aware of real estate's role in buoying an emerging economy as huge as China's. Only through a streak of incessant benchmark rate hikes can property market bubbles be tamed, as it forces property investors and hoarders to cash in on their assets in order to escape the unbearably high holding cost.

China's economy is in the midst of reducing redundant capacity in steel, coal, electricity and other resources. Few will expect the central bank to raise rates at this time to hurt businesses and economic activity. Therefore, it would be reasonable for the banks to keep their mortgage rates at the current level for quite a long time.

The report issued by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences conceded that home prices in some major cities that had seen hefty gains in the past two years will fall to a limited extent, but even bigger price rises could happen in the future. The baton is in the hands of the government.

The author is an editor with the Global Times.

Posted in: INSIDER'S EYE

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