China's cities taking steps to pare record housing inventories
Economists expect to see renewed policy support, including a possible rate cut in the first half, that will boost housing sales in second quarter
Home buyers in China's third-tier city of Shaoxing in Zhejiang province will receive a tax refund from the local government equal to at least 0.8 per cent of the deal price.
The move, effective from mid-February until the end of the year, is part of the mainland's nationwide effort to sell down record high housing inventory, an issue that is especially acute in small cities where demand seems to have stalled amid a slowing economy.
The property market downturn was a drag on China's economic growth last year, cutting it by about 1.1 percentage points, according to investment bank JP Morgan.
Many economists expect the authorities to intensify policy support this year, including a possible interest rate cut in the first half, to stabilise growth in the world's No2 economy at around 7 per cent. That will help bring about a cyclical rebound of the housing market in the second quarter after bottoming out in the first quarter, according to Hong Kong-based independent research and analytics firm Real Estate Foresight, which correctly predicted the trend in 2014.
"We may not yet be at the bottom of the cycle but there are more and more signs of upcoming cyclical pickup in volumes and later in prices," said Robert Ciemniak, the company's founder and chief executive.
Others are less optimistic. Li Junheng, head of research at New York-based JL Warren Capital said: "We believe that the downward momentum continued and will likely accelerate in the first quarter of 2015 if the anti-corruption investigation deepens among developers."
Debt defaults by Shenzhen-based developer Kaisa Group Holdings earlier this month have spooked global investors and injected a note of caution among domestic lenders. Global trade credit insurer Euler Hermes warned earlier this week of heightened insolvency risk and deteriorating payment terms in China. The specialist in the areas of bonding, guarantees and collections expected to see a 5 per cent rise in the number of Chinese companies filing for bankruptcy this year to 2,760 cases.
The still unfolding crisis drove up mortgage rates in Shenzhen this month, according to Rong360, a mainland financial product search engine. Its January report showed mortgage rates fell in 19 of the 35 major cities it tracks, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, while it increased in 13 cities.
"At current levels, mortgage rates [for first-time home buyers] are nearing banks' bottom lines unless the central bank cuts interest rate again," Rong360 said. "Relaxation in mortgage loans to second-time home buyers will soon spread nationwide and the down payment will likely be lowered as well."
While that is still pending, authorities have announced a flurry of other measures in the past few days. The housing ministry last week instructed cities suffering a serious housing glut to buy inventories with government money to pump up their reserves of affordable homes for low-income families.