Beijing’s Squeeze On Fragile Real-Estate Developers
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Beijing’s Squeeze On Fragile Real-Estate Developers

Broad bank lending to the real-estate sector, and developers is being squeezed.

By Mike Bird
Fri, Apr 30, 2021 2:16pmGrey Clock 2 min

“Housing is for living, not for speculation,” has been a Chinese government mantra for almost half a decade. This year, it appears that slogan finally has teeth. But new restrictions on bank lending leave developers tapping a unique source of funding, which could have damaging consequences of its own.

Late last year, Chinese regulators announced that property lending should make up no more than 40% of banks’ total lending, effectively putting an end to years of steadily increasing exposure to real estate.

Looking across major Chinese banks’ results for 2020, they are very much at that limit in aggregate. At the big four—Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China—real-estate lending ran to between 37.5% and 42.2% of total loans, according to Capital IQ.

That adds to the squeeze on bond issuance from Beijing’s “three red lines” policy, which restricts further borrowing if developers don’t satisfy three leverage benchmarks. Most don’t, and issuance has eased to the smallest amount in three years in early 2021—down by a third relative to the same period in 2019—according to S&P Global Ratings.

That means a further shift to the last meaningful source of funding left, deposits direct from home buyers, is inevitable.

Deposits often constitute a large proportion of the property’s value and are now largely paid upfront, long before a property is actually built. Without a national escrow system in place, this allows developers to use today’s deposits to fund yesterday’s commitments.

China Vanke, one of China’s largest developers, reported 53.52 million square meters (about 576 million square feet) of projects it has sold but which remain unfinished. That is equivalent to more than 18 months of completions at last year’s building rate. Vanke’s unearned revenue figure—payments accepted for work not finished—sits at $104.15 billion, more than three times its level at the end of 2015, and jumped by around $7.8 billion in the first three months of 2021 alone.

That accelerated shift is also clear from official industrywide data. Deposits are now the largest single source of real-estate developer funding, and in the 12 months to March, deposits and advance payments rose 23.9%, far outstripping the 14.1% growth in other funding sources.

That makes domestic news reports about a growing number of frustrated buyers worried about repeated delays to construction, like one carried by Xinhua News Agency earlier this month, particularly interesting and concerning.

Chinese home buyers aren’t sophisticated creditors like bondholders or banks, but they carry unparalleled political weight. Leaving them to foot the bill for the excesses of fragile real-estate developers is a risky decision.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: April 29, 2021.

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“Three months ago, Sydney housing values were falling at the monthly rate of -2.3 percent,” he said. “That has now reduced by a full percentage point to a decline of -1.3 percent in November.  In July, Melbourne home values were down -1.5 percent over the month, with the monthly decline almost halving last month to -0.8%.”

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“Potentially we are seeing the initial uncertainty around buying in a higher interest rate environment wearing off, while persistently low advertised stock levels have likely contributed to this trend towards smaller value falls,” Mr Lawless said. “However, it’s fair to say housing risk remains skewed to the downside while interest rates are still rising and household balance sheets become more thinly stretched.” 

The RBA has raised the cash rate from 0.10 in April  to 2.85 in November. The board is due to meet again next week, with most experts still predicting a further increase in the cash rate of 25 basis points despite the fall in house values.

Mr Lawless said if interest rates continue to increase, there is potential for declines to ‘reaccelerate’.

“Next year will be a particular test of serviceability and housing market stability, as the record-low fixed rate terms secured in 2021 start to expire,” Mr Lawless said.

Statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this week also reveal a slowdown in the rate of inflation last month, as higher mortgage repayments and cost of living pressures bite into household budgets.

However, ABS data reveals ongoing labour shortages and high levels of construction continues to fuel higher prices for new housing, although the rate of price growth eased in September and October. 

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