China’s property market was steady to slightly lower in January, with home prices dipping across 11 major cities from a year earlier, according to the latest official figures. Home prices declined in first-tier cities, while growth slowed in second- and third-tier cities, Liu Jianwei, senior statistician at the National Bureau Statistics, said in a statement on Saturday. New home prices – excluding government-subsidised housing – climbed in 52 of 70 cities tracked, compared with 57 in December, the data showed. But they fell in 13 cities from the previous month and were unchanged in five. Something to crow about: Property sales in the Year of the Rooster set to hit record US$103b Beijing and Shenzhen reported higher home prices compared with December but they fell from a year ago. Prices in Shanghai dropped in January from December and from a year earlier, the statistics bureau said. The acceleration in new home prices across the nation suggests moves by provincial governments to support first-time buyers and upgraders by relaxing some purchase restrictions may be further fanning price gains in a market where fear of missing out is strong and mortgage fraud is rampant. Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 5 per cent in January from a year earlier and 0.3 per cent month on month, according to Reuters calculations based on the statistics bureau data. The government removed the sales prices for affordable housing from the latest monthly calculations, distorting comparisons with previous months’ growth data. Prices in December grew 5.3 per cent on year and 0.4 per cent on month, based on the data which included affordable housing. The statistics bureau said in a statement that prices were “stable while slightly lower” last month, because 11 major cities fell year on year. “The housing prices in tier-one cities reversed from growth to a decline and there was a slowdown in the growth rate in tier-two and -three cities,” it said. Prices have been cooling since the government imposed restrictions on purchases last year. President Xi Jinping used his keynote speech at the twice-a-decade Communist Party congress in October to remind buyers that homes were meant “to be inhabited, not for speculation”. The People’s Bank of China has kept its benchmark one-year lending rate unchanged at 4.35 per cent for two years. But it has been tightening financial controls by lifting short-term rates on its liquidity management tools and implementing macroprudential deleveraging measures in shadow banking and wealth management products since the end of 2016. These tougher controls are aimed at tackling the risk of a housing bubble and reducing risky lending in the financial markets. Will China’s rental home drive to quash speculation fuel another property bubble? The data marks the first price decline in first-tier cities in more than two years, said Yan Yuejin, an analyst with Shanghai-based E-house China R&D Institute. Restrictions on purchases are also trickling down into lower-tier cities, while monetary policy tightening is leading to higher mortgage rates. “Tier-two and -three cities will probably experience a similar decline,” he said. Those cities have started knocking some heat off the market. Property sales have slowed across three different tiers in January by more than 10 per cent in 15 major cities monitored by China Index Academy, a private property research firm. Property sales are expected to decline due to new supply and slowing activity after the Lunar New Year holiday, ICBC International said in a research note. Some commercial banks had started raising mortgage rates since February, putting pressure on the property market, it said.