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Once Cool-off Property Market Gaining Steam Again

2006-04-11 10:14:54


   China’s booming property market, which had been cooled off after the central government adopted a package of policies to rein in the runaway housing prices a year ago, has begun to show warm-up sign since March this year.

   Data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that the property market climate index, which fell to below 102 in April 2005 and the downward trend had continued for eight successive months, hit 122.9 points in the first quarter of this year, a rise of 1.9 percent from the last three months in 2005.

   China’s major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Nanjing, all reported steeping house price hike since March.

   In Shanghai, China’s largest industrial city with a population of 17 million, both the house trading volume and sales price started to climb in March following an eight-month downturn.

   The trading volume reached 1.8 million square meters in March compared with 820,000 square meters in February, a rise of 119 percent.

   The price of commercial house surged to 9,457 yuan (1,182 U.S. dollars) per square meter at the end of March, compared with 7,558 yuan (944.75 dollars) per square meter in early March.

   Prospective buyers even have to queue for tickets to enter a bid for a new apartment in an unfinished block.

   The same thing happened in Beijing as potential buyers in the Chinese capital now can hardly find a commercial apartment priced at less than 6,000 yuan (750 dollars) per square meter within the city’s Fourth Ring Road.

   Meanwhile, housing prices in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province in south China, hiked by 14 percent in the January-March period of this year, with average price reaching 7,483 yuan (935 dollars) per square meter.

   Industry insiders held different views on whether this warm-up sign signals the total recovery of the housing market, and whether the housing boom can last for a long time.

   Yin Bocheng, a professor with the Real Estate Research Center of Shanghai-based Fudan University, termed the phenomenon as “selective recovery,” as majority of the house trading focused on apartments with smaller space and on property projects with a relative low price.

   Zhang Yu, an analyst with the Guotai Yun’an Securities, attributed the revival of the housing market to the appreciation of the Chinese currency, or RMB, whose value has risen more than 3 percent since China’s exchange rate was reformed last July, and the tough challenge faced by China in export due to trade tensions with major trading partners.

   This means that China has to encourage domestic consumption to maintain the high growth of economy. The real estate industry is one of the country’s pillar industries.

   Starting this year, Chinese banks have relaxed controls on loans to house purchase.

   The National Development and Reform Commission, China’s pricing watchdog, has also changed its macro-control tone on the sector from “restraining” to “encouraging citizens to purchase houses at an appropriate time and at appropriate price”in March.

   Yin Zhongli, a real estate expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, believed the policy shift has connection with the government’s worry that a downturn property market would produce a negative impact on the banking and construction sectors.

   Official statistics said bad housing loans hit 1.55 billion yuan (194 million dollars) last year, up from 558 million yuan (70 million dollars) in 2004.

   Yin also warned the risks of housing “bubble” as a result of the “short-term prosperity” of the housing market after a slack season.

   The People’s Bank of China, the central bank, said in a report that 143 million square meters of new commercial houses were not occupied across China by the end of December last year, a 15.7 percent rise from the same period in 2004.

   The National Bureau of Statistics also said that in 2005, 170 million square meters of land, or over half of the total land purchased for building houses, were not developed.

   Meanwhile, the contradiction between the skyrocketing housing prices and the relative low purchasing power of Chinese citizens is far from being resolved by the government.

   A report on China’s property market by the Financial Research Center of the Beijing Normal University said that the average urban household income stood at 15,000 yuan (1,875 U.S. dollars) and 17,000 yuan (2,125 U.S. dollars) in 2005.

   This indicates that 70 percent of the urban households can not afford a new apartment at current housing price.

   The Chinese government currently is treading on a sensitive ground. On the one hand, it hopes the real estate industry can help stimulate the weak domestic consumption, and on the other hand, it wants to maintain a “healthy and orderly” development of the property market.

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