The Chinese central bank has ordered 15 commercial banks to boost loans to first-time buyers
China’s authorities are becoming increasingly nervous as the country’s property market flirts with full-blown bust, threatening to set off a sharp economic slowdown and a worrying erosion of tax revenues.
New housing starts fell by 15pc in April from a year earlier, with effects rippling through the steel and cement industries. The growth of industrial production slipped yet again to 8.7pc and has been almost flat in recent months. Land sales fell by 20pc, eating into government income. The Chinese state depends on land sales and property taxes to fund 39pc of total revenues.
“We really think this year is a tipping point for the industry,” Wang Yan, from Hong Kong brokers CLSA, told Caixin magazine. “From 2013 to 2020, we expect the sales volume of the country’s property market to shrink by 36pc. They can keep on building but no one will buy.”
The Chinese central bank has ordered 15 commercial banks to boost loans to first-time buyers and “expedite the approval and disbursement of mortgage loans”, the latest sign that it is backing away from monetary tightening.
The authorities are now in an analogous position to Western central banks following years of stimulus: reliant on an asset boom to keep growth going. Each attempt to rein in China’s $25 trillion credit bubble seems to trigger wider tremors, and soon has to be reversed.
Wei Yao, from Société Générale, said the property sector makes up 20pc of China’s economy directly, but the broader nexus is much larger. Financial links includes $2.5 trillion of bank mortgages and direct lending to developers; a further $1 trillion of shadow bank credit to builders; $2.3 trillion of corporate and local government borrowing “collateralised” on real estate or revenues from land use.
“The aggregate exposure of China’s financial system to the property market is as much as 80pc of GDP. This is not a sector that can go wrong if China wants to avoid a hard landing,” she said. The risk is that several cities will face a controlled crash along the lines of Wenzhou, where prices have been falling non-stop for two years and have dropped 20pc.
President Xi Jinping has made a strategic decision to pop the bubble before it spins further out of control, allowing bond defaults to instil market discipline. But the Communist party is in delicate position and may already be trapped.
Reliance on “fair weather” land revenues to fund the budget is like the pattern in Ireland before its housing bubble burst. The IMF says China is running a fiscal deficit of 10pc of GDP once the land sales and taxes are stripped out.
Zhiwei Zhang, from Nomura, said the latest loosening measures are not enough to stop the property slide, predicting two cuts in the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for banks over the next two quarters. He warned that any such move will merely store up further problems.
Nomura said the inventory of unsold properties in the smaller third and fourth tier cities – which make up 67pc of residential construction – has reached 27 months’ supply. The bank warned in a recent report that the property slump could lead to a “systemic crisis”.
The Chinese state controls the banking system and has $3.9 trillion of foreign reserves that can be deployed in a crisis. The RRR is extremely high at 20pc and can be slashed if necessary. A cut to 6pc, the level in 1998, would inject $2 trillion in liquidity.
Nomura said residential construction has jumped fivefold since 2000 from 497m square metres to 2,596m last year. It is unclear whether fresh migrants will continue to pour into the cities and soak up supply. Nomura said migrant numbers have already halved from 12.5m to 6.3m over the last four years.
What is certain is that China’s demographic profile is already changing the economic calculus. The workforce contracted by 3.45m in 2012 and another 2.27m in 2013. For better or worse, China is already starting to look very like Japan.
Source : telegraph.co.uk