One year after China introduced measures to cool the property market, which were described by some as the most draconian in history, tentative signs of cooling are only to be expected.
Latest statistics show that month-on-month prices for new homes declined in 12 of 70 Chinese cities and remained flat in another eight cities in March while 29 cities saw smaller rises in property prices than in February.
Is that the light at the end of the tunnel for Chinese policymakers who are eager to head off a property bubble?
The answer seems to be “yes” to those who see the cup as being half full.
A positive spin can be put on the fact that more than half of the 70 large and medium cities surveyed experienced a fall in property values or a slower rate of increase.
China’s accelerated monetary tightening and steadily increasing supply of affordable housing are beginning to tilt the real estate market against developers and speculators that had been profiting from the price hikes.
Given the current shrinking trade volumes and the prospect of continuous government measures to squeeze the housing bubble, an optimistic reading of the country’s housing price data does not seem too far-fetched.
However, those who insist that the cup is half empty, can point to the fact that property prices went up in 50 of 70 major Chinese cities last month to dismiss the current slowdown in house price gains as signaling the end of the country’s long battle against a huge property bubble.
On the one hand, the temporary fall in prices is largely “structural”, as transactions have moved from unaffordable downtown areas to the suburbs. With few discernible changes in housing prices in the city center, sales of more new suburban homes at relatively lower prices results in statistics showing a drop in property, but these do not bring down the real level of housing prices.
On the other hand, local governments are still dragging their feet over limiting property price rises.
About 40 cities said last month that they will cap new home prices below annual economic and disposable per-capita income growth. In other words, they will do their best to ensure local property prices do not surge as fast as the local GDP or income levels.
These local governments’ targets of house price growth can be partly justified by the central government’s vow to double the average income level in five years. It is simply too hard to tightly cap house price gains amid the rising wages.
Such GDP or income-linked growth targets represent a sort of progress in reining in housing prices that have soared well beyond people’s income growth for too long. But they are a far cry from being a turning point.
Guesstimates about the trend in housing prices will not help prevent a property bubble. Hence, policymakers need to make clear their ultimate goal for housing price control.
(Editorial, China Daily)
(Asia News Network)