China's new home prices rose an average of 0.8 percent in January from a year earlier, snapping 10 months of decline and raising the risk Beijing may seek to bolster a three-year campaign to curb property inflation.
Home prices in 70 major cities across China rose an average of 0.7 percent in January from the previous month, after a 0.4 percent rise in December, according to Reuters' calculations from data released by the National Bureau of Statistics.
China's cabinet on Wednesday restated intentions to extend a pilot property-tax programme to more cities and urged local authorities again to put price-control targets on new homes, in a fresh bid to calm frothy real estate markets.
That spooked markets and triggered a sharp fall in property stocks Thursday.
Many investors expect Beijing imminently to announce new measures to temper stubbornly high house prices that have largely defied cooling efforts so far, and rumors of fresh curbs had hit equities in Hong Kong and China over the last few weeks.
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Liu Jianwei, a senior statistician at the NBS, played down the risk of a sustained surge in prices in a separate statement published on Friday.
"With the government's property measures being effectively implemented, the upward home price pressure seen starting from the fourth quarter of last year is expected to fade and there is no basis for home prices to experience an overall big rebound," Liu said.
Real estate, which directly impacts around 40 other business sectors in China, is a key driver in the world's second-largest economy, which is recovering from its worst annual downturn in 13 years.
China's government has spent three years implementing policies to rein in speculative real estate activity but home prices are still beyond the reach of many middle class citizens, fuelling social discontent.
Policy Tightening Risks
A Reuters poll in December showed economists expect a 7.0 percent increase in house prices in 2013 and a rise of 5.0 percent in 2014 due to a reviving economy and strong housing demand.
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"The rebound is to a large extent driven by loose monetary policy," said Zhang Zhiwei, chief China economist at Nomura in Hong Kong. "We expect the rebound of property prices will force the government to tighten monetary policy in coming months, and (money supply) growth will decline."
Home prices rose month-on-month in 53 of 70 major cities monitored by the NBS in January, just down from 54 in December, the NBS data showed, and confirming signs of a gradual rebound in the property market.
The NBS also said new home prices in Beijing rose 3.3 percent in January from the previous year - more than double December's rise of 1.6 percent. Shanghai prices gained 1.3 percent on the year in January. They were flat in December.
The official Shanghai Securities Journal has reported China's tier 1 cities including Beijing may introduce fresh property-tightening measures soon to curb strong housing demand.
China's home prices began their latest climb in mid-2012 as the People's Bank of China, the central bank, began easing monetary policy to underpin faltering economic growth.
Reuters started its weighted China home price index in January 2011 when the NBS stopped providing nationwide data. The NBS now only publishes price changes for each of the 70 major cities.