Real estate difficulties pose a dilemma for China’s leaders because they coincide with a two-thirds drop in share prices on the Shanghai stock market since the market’s high last October. The two together could produce a negative effect, causing Chinese consumers to feel poorer and to reduce spending.
The most recent national data from the government shows that the average price for all residential and commercial real estate was 7 percent higher in July than a year earlier. But brokers across China say that within that period, prices peaked in many markets — either at the end of last year or at various times this year — and have slid since. The stocks of real estate developers have plunged, too. China Vanke, the country’s biggest publicly traded developer, reported on Tuesday that its sales had plummeted in August by 35 percent from a year earlier.
The real estate decline is affecting ordinary Chinese, too. Perhaps most consequential is the emerging view, apparent on blogs and in interviews, that apartments and houses, like shares on the declining Shanghai stock market, are no longer a certain path to prosperity.
Lin Bin, a 48-year-old insurance saleswoman who lives in Guangzhou, said the 1,000-square-foot, three-bedroom apartment she bought here in 2002 was still worth more than she paid in 2002. But she said she had lost two-thirds of the $4,400 she put into the stock market a year ago and worried that the housing market might be next.
“I’m not contemplating buying a second home as an investment because I hear that stock market and housing prices will continue to fall through next year,” she said while shopping recently.
Part of the problem is a severe credit squeeze. Through last winter, China’s central bank repeatedly raised the amount of capital it required Chinese commercial banks to deposit with it. The goal was to slow bank lending and control inflation. The commercial banks responded by continuing to lend to big corporate customers, most of them state-owned or at least state-controlled, while reining in other lending.
Central bank data shows that total loans to households plummeted by a third from March to July of this year. The bulk of these loans are mortgages because Chinese shoppers, even car buyers, use mostly cash.
“It’s collapsing; it’s unbelievable, and most of it is from mortgages — I don’t see how the housing sector is going at all,” said Nicholas R. Lardy, a specialist in Chinese finance at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
He added that the decline was so precipitous that it had to reflect weaker demand for housing, and not just regulatory restrictions on credit.
To increase lending may be difficult now. The central bank needs ever greater reserves from commercial banks to buy dollars and prevent China’s currency from rising against the dollar, which could cause China’s exports to slow further.
China’s trade surplus set a record of $28.7 billion in August, the government announced on Wednesday, mainly because of an unexpected slowdown in the growth of imports. Slower growth of imports is a common sign of a weakening economy.
Assessing national trends in Chinese real estate is often difficult because of long lags in the data. Real estate brokers say prices are holding up better for homes in prime locations than in outlying areas. Top-quality commercial buildings are faring better than older buildings.