Central bank urges caution on real estate fluctuations

By Xin Zhiming (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-12-09 07:26

The central bank has warned that fluctuations in the real estate market may threaten banking security.

In its "Financial Stability Report 2006," which was published on Thursday, the People's Bank of China said the overall performance of 16 major commercial banks had improved by the end of 2005.

But given the rising house prices and the expanding scale of mortgages, "the potential risks brought by fluctuations in the real estate market should be monitored."

The report pointed out that the bad loan ratio of the 16 banks for individual consumer lending, 90 per cent of which is individual housing loans, was 2.55 per cent by the end of last year, 0.75 percentage points higher than a year before.

The report warned that price drops would have an impact on the macro-economy and the effect will spill over to affect financial stability. Moreover, it said, the depreciation of house values, as a result of price falls, will lead to devalued banking assets.

The ratio of individual housing loans to the overall volume of credit in financial institutions rose from 6 per cent in 2000 to 21 per cent in 2003. By the end of 2005, the ratio for long-term loans was 33.9 per cent.

Analysts said the central bank is answering the central leadership's call for more effective macro-economic regulation.

"It sends a clear message that the central bank wants the commercial banks to do something," said Chen Gong, chief analyst and chairman of Beijing-based Anbound Consulting.

The Central Economic Work Conference, in which the country's major economic priorities for next year were mapped out, required "rational guiding and effective regulation" in the real estate market.

"The central bank's comment on the real estate market, therefore, can be seen as a follow-up gesture," said Chen.

But this comment may be more than a gesture, according to Han Meng, a researcher at the Institute of Economics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

Macro-economic regulation has been in place for many years, but some problems still remain.

"The central government wants to maintain rational economic growth, but local governments want to further expand their investment scale, which pushes up housing prices," said Han.

Despite the macro-economic regulation, the price of new houses in 70 major cities rose 6.6 per cent year-on-year in October. From January to September, house prices in Beijing rose 10.9 per cent year-on-year.

The warning, released on the day the Central Economic Work Conference was concluded, may be a well-timed step by policy-makers to show where they stand on the issue, said Han.

However, Chen said the policy-makers will not take action that may lead to drastic fluctuations in the real estate market.

The economy will maintain its high growth rate next year, considering the current momentum, and the renminbi may continue to appreciate, said Chen. Moreover, domestic banks, which are weak in terms of financial innovation, have few good options other than individual housing lending. As a result, it is hard to control such lending to the real estate sector, said Han.

There is no sign that "hot money," or speculative capital, is retreating from China, Chen said. This indicates that speculators are still optimistic about China's housing market.

Although the market needs to be properly managed, Wang Lina, another CASS researcher on real estate, said that the warning does not represent a judgement by the central bank that the real estate market has entered a dangerous stage.

(China Daily 12/09/2006 page1)

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