December 15, 2018 / 2:01 AM / 6 months ago

China's November home price growth slows as smaller cities cool

BEIJING (Reuters) - Growth in China’s new home prices slowed in November as markets in smaller cities lost some of their heat, though the sector remained relatively resilient amid a broader slowdown in economic activity.

Small fishermen's homes are seen in Daya Bay district next to new buildings under development in Huizhou in China's Guangdong province, August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Clare Jim

Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 0.9 percent in November from a month earlier, slower than the previous month’s 1 percent and the weakest since September, Reuters calculations based on an official survey showed on Saturday.

The data marks the 43rd straight month of price increases, Reuters calculation showed, a log trend that’s remained intact despite curbs designed to rein in a near-three year real estate boom that has spread from megacities to the hinterland.

In a sign strength remains broad-based, 63 out of the 70 cities surveyed by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported monthly price increases for new homes, slightly lower than 65 in October.

Compared with a year earlier, new home prices rose 9.3 percent, the fastest since July 2017 and quickening from October’s 8.6 percent gain, according to data issued by the NBS.

China’s property market has remained relatively resilient as many investors exploit regulatory loopholes and turn to smaller cities where restrictions are lighter. Some speculators are also betting that many local governments, which rely on revenue from real estate, will be reluctant to tighten the regulatory screws too stringently.

In contrast, China’s November retail sales grew at their weakest pace since 2003 and industrial output rose the least in nearly three years as the economy lost momentum amid the heated trade dispute between Beijing and the United States.

But sentiment in the property sector has also turned more bearish recently following a surge in failed land auctions as the economy slows and policymakers remain unwilling to loosen their control of the sector.

Economists were particularly concerned about a slump in China’s smaller markets where economic fundamentals are weaker, although some expect credit easing measures to prop up the sector.

China’s 35 tier-3 cities reported an average price increase of 0.9 percent, slowing from 1.1 percent in the previous month, while its 31 tier-2 cities - which comprise sizeable provincial capitals - saw a price increase of 1.0 percent in October from a month earlier.

“Tier-3 cities that had previously supported the market are recently showing feeble growth and hotspot tier-1 and 2 cities are gradually starting to overall cool,” Zhang Dawei, an analyst at Hong Kong-based real estate research consultancy Centraline, wrote in a note.

“Given tightening finance, growing debt pressure and declining sales rates, real estate companies might choose to lower prices to boost sales, in order to ensure cashflow and meet year-end sale targets,” Zhang wrote.

A Reuters poll this week showed property investment would slow to 4 percent in 2019, while housing sales are expected to fall 5 percent amid slowing economic activity and tough financing conditions for smaller developers.

China’s four biggest cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou posted 0.3 in their average monthly prices.

The northern city of Hohhot was the top performer, rising 2.9 percent from October, NBS data showed.

While solid growth in the sector could cushion the impact of a long government crackdown on debt and simmering trade tensions, policymakers worry it could stoke fears of a sudden crash if prices climb too quickly given elevated levels of household debt.

Property investment in China picked up in November, a sharp contrast to other parts of the economy, which have weakened.

However, recent soft home sales and land purchases suggest a dim outlook for the sector.

November sales by floor area were 5.1 percent lower than a year earlier, according to Reuters calculations.

Household loans, mostly mortgages, increased to 656 billion yuan in November from 563.6 billion yuan in October, central bank data showed.

Cooling China's property market: tmsnrt.rs/2rL5vat

Reporting by Christian Shepherd and Yawen Chen; Editing by Richard Borsuk and Sam Holmes

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