Chinese still love property investment; potential in smaller cities: CLSA

Despite recent limits on property financing in China, real estate is still the favorite asset class of the Chinese, said CLSA's regional property research head, Nicole Wong.

"Stocks--they own it but they (can't) control it. Property--they own it and they control it, so it's actually the better asset class," Wong told CNBC's Squawk Box.

The average home price in China tripled between 2003 and mid-2008, but cooled in the second half of 2008 due to economic uncertainties brought by the global financial crisis.

Then in November 2008, China announced a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus package, which stirred another housing boom and accompanying surge in debt that peaked in 2013, before the government initiated a series of measures to cool the property market.

While policymakers have recently taken some steps to ease home buying in lower-tier cities, tier one cities including Shanghai and Shenzhen have in the last few days rolled out tightening measures, such higher down payment requirements for second-home purchases.

"These tightening measures were very well-anticipated. If you look at the first tier cities, there has been very limited (housing) supply over the last three to four years, and suddenly all the demand comes in, so there is no other way but just to keep (buyers) away," Wong said.

The surge in investment buying interest was actually been delayed by the Chinese stock market rally in the first quarter of last year, she added. But the market's sharp sell off since the middle of last year has rekindled interest.

Even though property prices in first tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai are surging, smaller cities may also hold potential.


"When we look at the U.S., there are some 20 regional hubs including big cities like New York, San Francisco and also places like San Diego...China is four times the size of the U.S., so it wouldn't be a surprise if China has something like 60 big, relatively fun cities in a couple of years," she said.

Others also see opportunities outside of tier one cities.

BNP Paribas' head of property research Lee Wee Liat noted that despite the recent tightening measures, property policies are still "very accommodative" in lower tier cities.

"This policy tilt in favor of lower tier 2 and 3 cities could reinvigorate investor appetite for developers who focus on lower tier cities," he wrote in a note on Tuesday.

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