Desperate Chinese Property Developers Resort to Bizarre Marketing Tactics
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Desperate Chinese Property Developers Resort to Bizarre Marketing Tactics

The country’s real-estate slump is getting worse—and looks set to drag on for years

By REBECCA FENG
Wed, Jan 24, 2024 9:07amGrey Clock 3 min

China’s real-estate crisis has dragged down the economy, caused massive layoffs and pushed multibillion-dollar companies to the point of collapse.

Economists think it is about to get worse.

Sales of newly built homes in China fell 6% last year, returning to a level not seen since 2016, according to China’s statistics bureau. Secondhand home prices in its four wealthiest cities—Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen—declined by between 11% and 14% in December from the year before, according to the broker Centaline Property.

Developers are starting fewer projects. Homeowners are paying back their mortgages early and borrowing less. Once-thriving property companies are stuck in protracted negotiations with foreign investors, following defaults on about $125 billion of overseas bonds between 2020 and late 2023, according to figures from S&P Global Ratings.

Chinese developers and local governments are so desperate to attract home buyers that some have resorted to bizarre marketing strategies.

A property company in Tianjin ran a video advertisement featuring the slogan “buy a house, get a wife for free.” It was a play on words, using the same Chinese characters as the phrase “buy a house, and give it to your wife”—but presented in a sentence structure typically used to offer freebies for home buyers. In September, the company was fined $4,184 for the ad.

A residential compound in eastern China’s Zhejiang province promised last year to give home buyers a 10-gram gold bar.

Earlier this month, Sheng Songcheng, former head of the statistics department at the People’s Bank of China, told a local conference that the housing downturn would last another two years. He thinks new-home sales will fall more than 5% in both 2024 and 2025.

Wall Street economists are also ringing alarm bells about how long the real-estate slump will last.

“Not too many people are buying, can buy or want to buy,” said Raymond Yeung, chief China economist at ANZ. He said there had been a fundamental shift in the way Chinese people view the property sector, with housing no longer seen as a safe investment.

China’s real-estate sector and related industries once accounted for around a quarter of gross domestic product and the sector’s slump has been a significant drag on the world’s second-largest economy. That has increased calls for Beijing to do more to prop up the sector, but so far Chinese officials have stuck to piecemeal policies rather than introducing a landmark stimulus package.

A number of economists are making comparisons to Japan, which spent decades trying to rebound from a crash in real-estate and stock prices. China’s stock market is in a years-long slump.

China’s central bank can help make the situation less painful, but it will need to be aggressive, said Li-gang Liu, head of Asia Pacific economic analysis at Citi Global Wealth Investments. The central bank still has policy room and could take one big step to make a significant impact, he said.

Liu Yuan, head of property research at Centaline, said that without the government’s help, new-home prices will need to drop by another 50% from current levels before they reach a bottom. This is based on the assumption that the tipping point will only come when it is cheaper to buy than to rent houses, Liu said.

China’s real-estate downturn has claimed dozens of victims. More than 50 developers—mostly privately owned—have defaulted on their debt. Developers still have millions of unfinished homes that were sold but not delivered. Chinese authorities have set aside billions of dollars to help builders complete apartments but the logjam is growing.

The crisis has drained the coffers of some Chinese local governments, which previously relied on land sales as a main source of income. Economists estimate they have hidden debt worth anything from $400 billion to more than $800 billion. To quiet talk of potential defaults, the central government has set up debt-swap programs to help some of them refinance.

Some economists are optimistic. In the first half of this year, buyers of secondhand homes will gradually return to the new-home market and prop up the sector, said Helen Qiao, chief China economist at Bank of America. “Things will slowly get better from here,” Qiao said.

But most are still expecting more pain, and investors are bearish. A benchmark of Hong Kong-listed property stocks had fallen for four years in a row before the start of this year. Since Jan. 1, it is down another 15%.



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Hong Kong Takes Drastic Action to Avert Property Slump

The city’s real-estate market has been hurt by high interest rates and mainland China’s economic slowdown

By ELAINE YU
Fri, Mar 1, 2024 3 min

Hong Kong has taken a bold step to ease a real-estate slump, scrapping a series of property taxes in an effort to turn around a market that is often seen as a proxy for the city’s beleaguered economy.

The government has removed longstanding property taxes that were imposed on nonpermanent residents, those buying a second home, or people reselling a property within two years after buying, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said in his annual budget speech on Wednesday.

The move is an attempt to revive a property market that is still one of the most expensive in the world, but that has been badly shaken by social unrest, the fallout of the government’s strict approach to containing Covid-19 and the slowdown of China’s economy . Hong Kong’s high interest rates, which track U.S. rates due to its currency peg,  have increased the pressure .

The decision to ease the tax burden could encourage more buying from people in mainland China, who have been a driving force in Hong Kong’s property market for years. Chinese tycoons, squeezed by problems at home, have  in some cases become forced sellers  of Hong Kong real estate—dealing major damage to the luxury segment.

Hong Kong’s super luxury homes  have lost more than a quarter of their value  since the middle of 2022.

The additional taxes were introduced in a series of announcements starting in 2010, when the government was focused on cooling down soaring home prices that had made Hong Kong one of the world’s least affordable property markets. They are all in the form of stamp duty, a tax imposed on property sales.

“The relevant measures are no longer necessary amidst the current economic and market conditions,” Chan said.

The tax cuts will lead to more buying and support prices in the coming months, said Eddie Kwok, senior director of valuation and advisory services at CBRE Hong Kong, a property consultant. But in the longer term, the market will remain sensitive to the level of interest rates and developers may still need to lower their prices to attract demand thanks to a stockpile of new homes, he said.

Hong Kong’s authorities had already relaxed rules last year to help revive the market, allowing home buyers to pay less upfront when buying certain properties, and cutting by half the taxes for those buying a second property and for home purchases by foreigners. By the end of 2023, the price index for private homes reached a seven-year low, according to Hong Kong’s Rating and Valuation Department.

The city’s monetary authority relaxed mortgage rules further on Wednesday, allowing potential buyers to borrow more for homes valued at around $4 million.

The shares of Hong Kong’s property developers jumped after the announcement, defying a selloff in the wider market. New World Development , Sun Hung Kai Properties and Henderson Land Development were higher in afternoon trading, clawing back some of their losses from a slide in their stock prices this year.

The city’s budget deficit will widen to about $13 billion in the coming fiscal year, which starts on April 1. That is larger than expected, Chan said. Revenues from land sales and leases, an important source of government income, will fall to about $2.5 billion, about $8.4 billion lower than the original estimate and far lower than the previous year, according to Chan.

The sweeping property measures are part of broader plans by Hong Kong’s government to prop up the city amid competition from Singapore and elsewhere. Stringent pandemic controls and anxieties about Beijing’s political crackdown led to  an exodus of local residents and foreigners  from the Asian financial centre.

But tens of thousands of Chinese nationals have arrived in the past year, the result of Hong Kong  rolling out new visa rules aimed at luring talent in 2022.

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