Business / Industries

Easy loans, land shortage fuel China home price hikes

(Xinhua) Updated: 2016-09-21 08:29

BEIJING - A surge in housing mortgage loans and an undersupply of construction land contributed to a sweeping increase in home prices across China.

Official data showed that more cities reported home price increases in August than in July, regardless of size.

A central bank survey showed that 53.7 percent of polled residents thought home prices in the third quarter of 2016 were "unacceptably high," up from 53.4 percent in the previous quarter.

Nevertheless, 16.3 percent of respondents were "ready to buy homes" in the coming three months, up from 15 percent in a quarter earlier.

Analysts said ordinary people prefer property as a safe and relatively lucrative investment to risky stocks and occasionally fraudulent online financing products.

People widely believe that the government virtually underwrites the value of properties, said Li Xunlei, chief economist at Haitong Securities, one of China's largest brokerages. A robust property sector can boost the consumption of steel, cement, non-ferrous metals, chemicals, home appliances and furniture, and the government is supposed to support its expansion.

Cheap and easy mortgages have, to a large extent, helped turn people's bright outlook into actual purchases.

"Banks now favor mortgages as returns in the real economy are low and unstable," said Xia Dan, a senior researcher with the Bank of Communications, one of China's top five lenders.

Central bank data showed that Chinese banks in August issued 529 billion yuan ($79 billion) in household medium- and long-term loans, mortgages accounting for 55.7 percent of the total.

In the first eight months of the year, these loans jumped 90.4 percent year on year to 3.63 trillion yuan.

In contrast, enterprises got less from banks, although China's current easy monetary policy -- low interest rates and reserve requirements -- was meant to help them.

"The rising home prices are now based on household loans, which is risky," warned Yao Zhizhong, a global economic and political researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

A natural and sometimes man-made shortage of land for housing development could be another reason for the price hikes, particular in big cities.

For instance, Beijing plans to supply 4,100 hectares of construction land in 2016, down from 4,600 hectares in 2015 and 5,150 hectares in 2014.

Prices of recently auctioned land plots in many cities were already higher than those of nearby existing homes, meaning that home prices in these areas are set to increase.

Some people called the phenomenon "flour more expensive than bread." High land prices and high home prices have become a case of chicken and egg.

Municipal governments that rely too much on land sales for fiscal revenue deliberately supply land very slowly "like squeezing toothpaste" to push up prices, said Liu Shijin, an economist with China Development Research Foundation, an official think tank.

Liu suggested local governments increase land supply or signal that they will do so if prices become exorbitant.

As price growth expanded from top-tier cities to more places in the past few months, three second-tier cities -- Suzhou, Xiamen and Hangzhou -- resumed home purchase restrictions, while several others raised minimum deposits.

"These measures, to some extent, will be able to curb the price surge. If the rising trend continues, more governments are likely to take similar action," said Zhao Xijun, an economic professor at Renmin University of China.

But to solve the root of the problem, China needs to quicken its economic restructuring and develop new growth engines with higher returns than the property sector, according to housing market analyst Liu Ce.

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