Real Estate

China 'Tulip Fever' sees house prices skyrocket 76% to close in on San Jose

A woman holding an umbrella walks on an overpass in front of residential buildings in Shenzhen, China, on August 23, 2016.
Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Housing in major cities in China has seen price hikes over the last year that resemble the famous Dutch "Tulip Fever" bubble of 1637, according to new research by economic consultancy firm Longview Economics.

"I think what's going on in China is troubling ... some of the valuations there are really quite extraordinary," Chris Watling, the CEO of Longview Economics, told CNBC Thursday. "We've double checked these numbers about seven times, because I found them quite hard to believe."

The firm's research found that only San Jose in the Silicon Valley is more expensive than Shenzhen. The Chinese city has seen prices rise 76 percent since the start of 2015, with the acceleration beginning in April 2015 as the country's stock market was nearing its peak. The situation in Beijing and Shanghai is similar, albeit less extreme, the company states.

"Housing in some of the tier 1 cities is more expensive than it is in London, which I think itself is on a bubble, Watling added. "The (stock) market exploded to the upside and then crashed dramatically. That money had to go somewhere, so it washed around the system ... so a lot of it has gone into housing."

The analysis suggests that the typical home in Shenzhen costs approximately $800,000. Watling said that the house-income ratio in Shenzhen is now running at 70 times, compared to around 16 times in somewhere like London.

Tulip fever gripped Holland in the 17th century, when speculation over prized and rare tulip bulbs hiked their prices to astronomical levels, bankrupting families and bringing the country's economy to its knees.

China, the biggest economic story of the last 30 years, has soured in the eyes of many analysts. A stock market crash that began in the country last summer has highlighted the vast difficulties Chinese lawmakers are now facing. Watling said Chinese housing was a story built on credit, lots of liquidity and lots of debt. He added that all bubbles, though, once established, will eventually burst and deflate.

Where are the biggest threats to the economy?
Where are the biggest threats to the economy?

"It's simply a question of when," Watling said in a research note earlier this week, adding that the removal of cheap money would be the likely scenario that would lead to the beginning of the tightening and subsequent prices falls.

CBS News' "60 Minutes" show in 2013 first put the spotlight on China and a property sector that was seen as being in a bubble state. Meanwhile, billionaire financier George Soros has warned several times on the country, stating that China's debt-fueled growth is bearing an "eerie resemblance" to the conditions leading up to the 2008 financial crash.

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