China's 'no-money-down' practice echoes US subprime loan risks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 3:12am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 3:12am

Mainland homebuyers are being offered no-money-down purchases in an echo of the subprime lending that triggered the economic meltdown in the United States and the global financial crisis.

Deals skirting government requirements for minimum 30 per cent down payments have emerged this year from Guangzhou and Shenzhen to Beijing as property sales slump, according to state media and statements by government agencies and developers.

Loosening down-payment requirements could erode the mainland's financial stability by adding to risks for property companies, lenders and an economy already heading for the weakest growth in 24 years.

Government warnings to consumers indicate that officials will strive to limit such arrangements, a sign of stress in a property market with a glut of homes.

The risk is severe for developers because there is no commitment from [buyers]
Ding Shuang, Citigroup

"The risk is severe for developers and third parties because there is no commitment from homebuyers," said Ding Shuang, an economist at Citigroup. "Zero down payment has appeared in the US before. It basically enabled unqualified people to buy houses. We need to see whether this will become widespread. For now, it seems sporadic."

The practice threatened to add to the build-up of risks in the mainland's US$7 trillion shadow banking industry, with developers or third parties arranging funding to cover down-payment requirements, said Shen Jianguang, the chief Asia economist at Mizuho Securities Asia.

In Guangzhou, nearly 20 housing developments rolled out no-down-payment plans to boost sales, the Nanfang Daily, the Guangdong province's official Communist Party newspaper, reported in April as government agencies in Guangzhou and Shenzhen issued warnings against the practice.

"'Zero down payment' can't solve homebuyers' problems of shortages of funds, and it has to rely on unconventional practices such as paying the down payment for the customer at high interest or fraudulently inflating the property price to swindle banks out of loans," the Urban Planning Land and Resources Commission of Shenzhen Municipality said in April.

Poly Real Estate Group was letting buyers delay full down payments at its Central Park development in Nanjing, China News Service reported early this month.

Buyers can pay deposits of 50,000 yuan (HK$62,400) and then 15 per cent of the home price in three months' time. The smallest unit was about 70 square metres and cost about 1.2 million yuan, the report said.

A staff member confirmed the payment details in the report.

A Poly investor relations officer in Guangzhou said the arrangement should not be described as "zero down payment".

"Home prices are actually pretty high," the officer said. "We are helping out those college [graduates] to buy properties as they might not be able to put down a big sum all at once."