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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese property developers expect their offshore dollar bond issuance to all but grind to a halt in the near term, despite a bumper start to the year, as Beijing's bid to cool the property sector closes corporates' access to the global debt market.
Bankers and developers who spoke to Reuters say China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which approves corporate debt issuance, has virtually stopped granting new quotas for offshore bond sales this quarter.
The tightening follows Beijing's efforts in the second half of last year to slow corporate bond issuance by real estate developers in the onshore exchange market.
That move led to a wave of offshore dollar bond issuance in the first quarter as developers sought alternative ways to raise funds. Issuance by Chinese property firms so far this year has totalled $4.5 billion (3.47 billion pounds), accounting for 3 percent of Asia's total $133.8 billion of corporate dollar bonds.
This is already nearing the total $5.7 billion for all of last year and far more than the $810 million issued over the previous corresponding period, when corporate financing efforts focused mostly on the onshore bond market.
However, market participants say Chinese regulators are now severely limiting offshore financing.
"The issuances in the market early this year were using last year's quota," said a Shenzhen-based developer. "I don't expect to see new issuance in the second-half."
Two other developers, who declined to be named because matters related to regulators are considered sensitive, also told Reuters they are seeing delays in the approval process.
NDRC did not respond to Reuters' request for comment.
The pipeline this year has been driven by state-owned enterprises (SOE), which tend to have stronger balance sheets than privately-owned companies. The developers who are coming to the market currently are either those with first-quarter approvals or from weaker provinces where developers don't face such intense competition from state-owned firms.
Shenzhen-based Logan Property announced on Wednesday it would issue $459 million senior notes to refinance existing debt, the quota for which was approved in the first quarter, bankers said. Logan did not respond to a request for comment.
An official of Shanghai-based Shimao Property said the company had its quota approved by regulators in the first quarter, but added it doesn't have concrete plans to issue yet.
"They have tightened the approval process in the second quarter after the flurry of activity in the first quarter," said a Hong Kong-based syndicate banker who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Despite the tighter dollar credit supply, developers don't expect refinancing issues due to the availability of other channels such as bank loans.
Shimao and Longfor Properties said last week they had won regulatory approval to issue medium-term notes in the interbank market, another channel local developers are increasingly tapping to circumvent restrictions.
Rating agency Moody's also said the refinancing risk for Chinese developers this year is low, as their liquidity is still backed by robust home sales, with bond maturities hitting their peak in 2018.
Editing by Sam Holmes