China home prices advance in November, offering signs of recovery

Here's where sovereign wealth funds are moving their money to
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Here's where sovereign wealth funds are moving their money to

China's new home prices picked up at a faster clip in November, offering further signs of a tentative recovery in the economically sensitive sector.

Overall, housing prices rose 0.9 percent on year in November, picking up from October's 0.1 percent tick up, according to Reuters calculations based on the official data. Home prices also rose 0.3 percent from a month earlier, up from October's 0.2 percent rise, according to Reuters calculations.

That was boosted by big jumps in tier-one cities, with Beijing new home prices rising 7.7 percent on-year and Shanghai's climbing 13.1 percent.

China's property sector is a closely watched barometer for the mainland economy. The sector makes up around 15 percent of the China's gross domestic product (GDP), so any slowdown has widespread implications for the greater economy.

"Tier one cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen - are basically where prices have gone up very solidly recently, starting from probably April this year," Helen Qiao, Greater China chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told CNBC Friday after the data were released. "If you look at tier two, tier three, especially tier three, tier four, those are the places where the inventory remains relatively high to the sales ratio and then prices are relatively stable. In some of them, you still see prices going down. "

She notes that while developers are still happy to add supply in tier-one cities, they're less willing in lower-tier cities.

Anecdotal evidence indicates the country still suffers from high vacancy rates in some regions, spurring accusations from China skeptics of a property bubble, but these so-called ghost towns are generally located well outside China's largest cities.

China's overall property market has shown signs of stabilizing, even in the more stagnant residential sector, with the government backtracking on some cooling measures it put in place to calm the previously overheated market. The People's Bank of China (PBOC) has also cut interest rates six times since November 2014.

Minimum down payments for second home buyers have already been cut three times this year, a move Moody's Investors Service has called credit positive for property developers amid expectations for higher housing sales.

Analysts at BNP Paribas expect construction will begin to recovery in the second half of 2016 as the decline in land sales appears to be moderating.

But it noted that developers are cautious on new capex spending, especially in tier two and three cities, which make up more than 90 percent of the mainland's property investment by value.

"We expect policies aimed at accelerating inventory clearance in lower tier cities – including subsidies for rural populations to encourage home purchase, direct monetary compensation for households affected by urban relocations, and wider usage of provident funds for home purchases," BNP Paribas said in a note Friday.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1