Skies darkening for China’s property developers as tighter credit to slow sales growth
Industry executives see restrictive policies lasting for two years, which could spur further consolidation among companies
The boom years for China’s property developers are coming to an end as measures by regulators to tighten credit will slow sales growth, reduce liquidity and accelerate industry consolidation this year, according to industry executives.
Wu Jianbin, vice-president of Fujian-based developer Yango Group, told a property forum in Shenzhen last Friday that banks are asking property companies to amend the terms of their loans or sign new supplementary contracts that require developers to bear the increasing cost of financing if the banks tighten their capital chain.
“Currently, there are dark clouds over the industry. We see financing costs have increased 5 per cent to 10 per cent,” said Wu, who was formerly the chief financial officer of industry giant Country Garden Holdings.
“Restrictive policies are likely to remain over the next two years,” said Wu. “I see no sign of relaxation of these policies and for those companies who do not have enough cash, it means winter is coming.”
Top mainland Chinese developers have already set modest sales targets for this year amid a less sanguine outlook. The robust performances they reported in 2017 are unlikely to be repeated this year under the tighter credit regime.
The restrained outlook could be a spur to industry consolidation as the bigger players use their size to squeeze out smaller ones who struggle with less preferential lending rates and other market barriers.
“Market observers say that the top 10 developers could account for 50 per cent of the industry by 2020,” Wu said. “Imagine if 10 real estate companies take up half of a market worth more than 10 trillion yuan (US$1.6 trillion). If that happened, industry consolidation would be complete.”
By the end of November, 2017, the top 10 developers took up 25.2 per cent of the market, according to statistics presented at the forum.
Meanwhile, developers will face slowing growth in contracted sales, or sales of properties yet to be built, Moody's Investors Service said in a forecast report released on Monday.
Contracted sales growth will increase more than 20 per cent year on year in 2018 but slow notably from the high level seen in last year, it said, while mainland developers will see gross profit margins decline to around 30 per cent in 2018 from a multiyear peak of 31.9 per cent in 2017 because of price caps in many cities and a continued increases in land costs, it said.
Cindy Huang, an analyst at S&P Global Ratings, noted in a report released on Sunday that credit profiles of developers could diverge as smaller players are locked out of onshore funding markets and face higher coupons offshore.
“We expect 2018 may be a turning point for pre-sale margins to start contracting,” said Huang. “Despite efforts to rein in the market, underlying land prices have continued to advance. Many developers that bought high-cost land over the past two years, banking on ever-rising property prices, face a grim reality.”
However others at the forum noted that strong demand for houses is still there, particularly in cities close to Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, driven by demand from working professionals settling in big cities.
“We expect demand for houses to further increase around the three major urban areas of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen,” said Ba Shusong, the chief China economist for Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, the city’s stock market operator.
“Prices in neighbouring cities are relatively low compared to the core cities, and thus there is room for further increases there.”
As of the end of 2017, home prices in the port city of Tianjin were only 41 per cent of those in Beijing, 30 minutes away by train, while home prices in Hangzhou were 49 per cent of those in nearby Shanghai. In the south, prices in Zhuhai were 43 per cent of those in Shenzhen while Dongguan’s were 27 per cent, Ba told the forum.