Crucial test ahead in squeezing out housing speculators in China

By Wang Jiamei Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/8 22:48:39

As 2018 will be crucial to China's efforts to tame the country's bubbly real estate market, authorities should be wary of any possible resurgence in speculative buying as curbs are relaxed.

China's property sector may see zero growth in transactions this year as a result of the continued clampdown on the overheated market, a UBS executive was quoted by CNBC as saying on Monday. If this forecast materializes, then there is a slim possibility that the government will relax purchase restrictions in 2018.

Lanzhou, capital of Northwest China's Gansu Province, announced last week the removal of purchase curbs in three districts. The news made headlines and triggered discussion over whether the national authorities will maintain strict controls over the property market.

Analysts generally believe there's little chance of an overall easing of housing curbs, but it may become common for second- and third-tier cities to adjust their restrictions based on local market conditions.

While the motives behind certain adjustments may be justified, the central government should be on guard against any possible resurgence in speculation in some regions. This would be in line with the decisions made at the Central Economic Work Conference in December 2017, which said that China should maintain the continuity and stability of the real estate market's regulatory policies.

With the property sector considered a major source of financial risk, local governments in China's major cities announced various measures to cool the property sector starting in 2016, such as purchase limits and higher down payment requirements. These controls led to slow growth in the real estate market in terms of both sales and prices over the past year, especially in the second half of 2017.

In November, average new home prices in China's 70 major cities rose only 0.3 percent month-on-month and 5.1 percent year-on-year, according to Reuters calculations based on data from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Yet, China should be wary of relaxed rules in some smaller cities or the efforts of the past two years will be wasted if speculation resumes. In this sense, whether home prices stop rising in 2018 will be crucial to measuring the effectiveness of China's property control policies.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

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