Business Maverick

Business Maverick

China tells bankers to support property market, homebuyers

epa09416193 People repair ship?s mast in front of the Lujiazui financial district in Shanghai, China, 16 August 2021. China?s economy continued to slow down in July, with the unemployment rate slightly increased to 5.1percent from 5 percent in June, according to the National Bureau of Statistics data released on 16 August. Industrial production and retail sales grew by 6.4 percent and 8.5 percent year-on-year, while the fixed-asset investment grew by 10.3 percent in January-July. China?s newly built house prices rose by 4.6percent year-on-year in July 2021. EPA-EFE/ALEX PLAVEVSKI

China has urged financial institutions to help local governments stabilize the rapidly cooling housing market and protect the rights of some homebuyers, another signal that authorities are worried about fallout from the debt crisis at China Evergrande Group.

At a meeting chaired by central bank Governor Yi Gang, authorities told financial institutions to cooperate with governments “to jointly maintain the steady and healthy development of the real estate market and safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of housing consumers,” according to a statement by the People’s Bank of China late Wednesday.

The meeting, attended by officials from the country’s banking and securities regulators, the housing ministry and executives from 24 banks, also called for “accurately grasping and enforcing the prudential management system of real estate finance around the goal of ‘stabilizing land prices, house prices and expectations,’” the PBOC said.

The statement echoed the PBOC’s vow two days ago to ensure a “healthy property market” and protect home buyers’ rights, as struggling property giant Evergrande is on the brink of collapse, threatening to leave 1.5 million buyers waiting for finished homes.

“The meeting reinforces an ongoing step by the Chinese authorities to address the potential contagion risks brought about by Evergrande,” said Jun Rong Yeap, market strategist at IG Asia. “While tightening of regulations may remain, the recent meeting may suggest intentions for a more controlled improvement in credit, potentially improving some capital flows to China’s developers.”

Citigroup Inc. estimated that about 41% of China’s banking system assets were either directly or indirectly associated with the property sector by the end of last year, and any decline in prices may lead to a knock-on effect on banks’ asset quality. Chinese banks have an estimated 50.8 trillion yuan ($7.9 trillion) of outstanding loans to developers and homebuyers.

Shares rise

Shares of most Chinese developers rallied in the mainland and Hong Kong markets on Thursday, outperforming benchmarks. The Shanghai Stock Exchange Property Index gained as much as 2.3%, while the Hang Seng Property gauge jumped 1.5%.

“We think it’s definitely good for developers given that developers in the past 12 months have found it very difficult on the financing side,” Raymond Cheng, head of China and Hong Kong research at CGS-CIMB Securities, referring to policy discussed at the meeting. Property industry share prices “have been down a lot in the past few months on policy concerns and the Evergrande issue.”

The government has been steadily tightening restrictions in the real estate market to rein in financial risks, reducing demand from developers for land auctions while curbing investment and economic growth. Some analysts, including those at Huatai Securities Co., have said regulators may fine-tune policies if property prices start to fall, with possible options including looser mortgage loan quotas. Regulators may also ensure troubled developers deliver on presold homes, they said.

The latest PBOC meeting may signal that authorities might consider a “marginal adjustment” of real estate credit policy to ensure people with real needs for housing get loans, according to a report carried on the WeChat account of the official Securities Times on Thursday, citing some analysts.

Indeed, there have been signs of some easing, at least in the issuance of mortgage-backed securities, which allows banks to securitize their housing loans and free up capacity for more lending.

Chinese lenders’ issuance of securities backed by residential mortgages this month hit the highest since March, rebounding from a recent lull after authorities moved to curb their use in an effort to rein in property prices. Issuance rose to 71 billion yuan, close to the previous high of 71.5 billion yuan in March, according to data as of Wednesday from the China Securitization Analytics website. The market saw no issuance in June and July.

Still, the PBOC reiterated in the statement that it won’t use the property market as a tool to stimulate the economy for short-term growth and will stick to the long-standing government principle that “housing is for living, not for speculation.”

Sounding a note of caution over speculation about a new round of property credit easing, the state-run Economic Daily said in a commentary Wednesday that China shouldn’t loosen its policies just because some real estate developers are running into trouble.

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