China’s housing pain set to continue after sales bottom

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) – China’s real estate slump is probably past its worst – but the market remains a long way from a full recovery.

Industry executives and economists foresee sales remaining depressed due a weak job market, a prolonged cash crunch and low confidence on housing prices. It could hit growth in the world’s second-largest economy, where real estate and related industries account for about 20 per cent of gross domestic product.

Sales at China’s largest housing developers fell 43 per cent in June from a year earlier, according to China Real Estate Information Corp (CRIC), less than the previous month’s 59 per cent decline. Weekly sales data from CRIC show that some major cities, including Shenzhen and Guangzhou in southern China, generated year-on-year growth at the end of June.

For the full year, Moody’s and S&P Global both predict a drop of 15 per cent or more.

“Limiting the drop of real estate industry to between 10 per cent and 20 per cent would be difficult,” Feng Jun, a former housing ministry official who is now head of the state-backed China Real Estate Association, warned during a June 29 conference.

The market has “bottomed out” but a recovery will be slow, Yu Liang head of China’s second-largest builder China Vanke, said last week. He attributed the recovery partly to seasonal factors – property developers usually rush sales in June to polish interim results.

China’s land transactions increased in June compared with the previous month. Sales of land through auctions from 300 cities rose by 45 per cent to 120 million square metres in June, China Securities Journal reported. Fewer under-subscriptions were reported from the first two rounds of auctions held by core cities, an indication that the housing market is recovering.

The easing of Covid-19 restrictions has helped. CRIC data show home sales by top developers were up 61 per cent in June from May. Still, that was less than half the pace of increase following the lifting of 2020’s lockdowns.

Such data suggest “a mild recovery, rather than the V-shaped rebound in 2020,” Barclays’ Hong Kong-based credit analyst Wilson Ho wrote in a note. Sales in smaller cities are weaker compared with larger ones, he added. That’s prompted developers in some rural areas to accept garlic, wheat and even watermelon as housing deposits in recent months.

Housing sales have fallen year-on-year for 11 successive months, according to official data, making this the longest slump since China created a private property market in the late 1990s. Some economists expect sales to turn positive in the final quarter of the year, partly because performance late last year was so weak.

That said, the sector still faces significant challenges. Luxury builder Shimao Group Holdings’ default on a US$1 billion (S$1.41 billion) offshore bond this week highlighted the severity of the spreading liquidity crisis. It could also leave millions of square feet of apartments unfinished – underscoring a risk that has deterred homebuyers. Developers’ completion for property projects slumped further in May, according to official data.

Chinese builders have been driving record offshore bond defaults this year, and the risks are now spilling into the onshore market. The nation’s economic recovery remains uncertain due to risks from lockdowns.

China still has some options to boost the market – mortgage rates remain higher than levels seen after previous downturns. But officials have indicated they will stick to their policy of not using real estate for economic stimulus.