China’s real estate investment slows as caution sinks in

Real estate worries are adding to broader economic growth worries in China. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2018

China’s real estate investment slows as caution sinks in

  • Property increases downside risks to economy
  • September new construction starts up by a fifth

BEIJING: Growth in China’s real estate investment eased in September and home sales fell for the first time since April, as developers dialled back expansion plans amid economic uncertainties and as additional curbs on speculative investment kicked in.
A cooling market could increase the downside risks to the world’s second-largest economy, which faces broader headwinds including an intensifying trade war with the United States.
However, while analysts acknowledge increasing caution in the property market, they say investment levels are still relatively high, suggesting a hard landing remains unlikely.
Growth in real estate investment, which mainly focuses on residential but also includes commercial and office space, rose 8.9 percent in September from a year earlier, compared with a 9.2 percent rise in August, Reuters calculated from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data out on Friday.
“I think overall, China’s real estate market is still resilient, and the decline in sales is within our expectations,” said Virginia Huang, Managing Director of A&T Services, CBRE Greater China.
“There is no sign that the government has relaxed their control, but it still has many methods and tools to support the market if the economy deteriorates rapidly,” Huang said.
Real estate has been one of the few bright spots in China’s investment landscape, partly due to robust sales in smaller cities where a government clampdown on speculation has been not as aggressive as it is in larger cities.
The market has struggled as authorities continued to keep a tight grip over the sector, ramping up control in hundreds of cities. Transactions fell sharply over the period dubbed “Golden September and Silver October,” traditionally a high season for new home sales.
Property sales by floor area fell 3.6 percent in September from a year earlier, compared with a 2.4 percent gain in August, according to Reuters calculations, the first decline since April. In year-to-date terms, property sales rose 2.9 percent in the first three quarters.
China’s central bank governor Yi Gang said last week he still sees plenty of room for adjustment in interest rates and the reserve requirement ratio (RRR), as downside risks from trade tensions with the United States remain significant.
The government has implemented four RRR cuts this year, releasing hundreds of billions in new liquidity to the market.
China has for several years pushed a deleveraging campaign to reduce financial risks, clamping down on shadow banking and closing many “grey” financing channels for real estate firms.
For many highly leveraged developers, there are already signs of increasing caution as exemplified by a surge in failed land auctions due to tight liquidity and thinning margins.
New construction starts measured by floor area, an indicator of developers’ expansion appetite, rose 20.3 percent in September from a year earlier, compared with a 26.6 percent gain in August, Reuters calculations showed.
That’s against the backdrop of seemingly looser funding conditions for China’s real estate developers, who raised 12.2 trillion yuan ($1.76 trillion) in the first nine months, up 7.8 percent from the same period a year earlier, the NBS said.
The growth rate compared with a 6.9 percent increase in January-August period.
“Many developers will face lots of maturing debt by the end of this year, and there are perceived risks in the economy, so they will be more cautious,” Huang said.
China’s housing ministry is considering putting an end to the pre-sale system that developers use to secure capital quickly, in an effort to crack down on financial risks in the property sector.
China’s home prices held up well in August, defying property curbs. But analysts expect additional regulatory tightening and slowing economic growth will soon take the wind out of the property market’s sails.
The National Bureau of Statistics will release September official home price data on Saturday.


S&P cuts Australia’s sovereign outlook, affirms AAA rating

Updated 08 April 2020

S&P cuts Australia’s sovereign outlook, affirms AAA rating

  • S&P affirmed Australia’s prized rating but said a downgrade was possible within the next two years
  • Australian long-dated bonds sold off after S&P’s outlook downgrade

SYDNEY: Global ratings agency S&P on Wednesday lowered its outlook on Australia’s coveted ‘AAA’ rating to “negative” from “stable” in anticipation of a “material” weakening in the government’s debt position as it splashes out a large fiscal stimulus package.
S&P affirmed Australia’s prized rating but said a downgrade was possible within the next two years if the economic damage from the COVID-19 outbreak is more severe or prolonged than it currently expects.
Australia is among a handful of countries in the world to boast the best ranking from all three major ratings agencies.
But it has come under a cloud as the pandemic has dealt Australia a severe economic and fiscal shock, with S&P predicting the A$2 trillion ($1.23 trillion) economy would plunge into recession for the first time in nearly 30 years.
This would cause a “substantial deterioration of the government’s fiscal headroom at the ‘AAA’ rating level,” S&P said in a statement.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the outlook downgrade was “a reminder of the importance of maintaining our commitment to medium term fiscal sustainability.”
The government has pledged A$320 billion ($197.73 billion) in fiscal spending, or 16.4 percent of annual economic output, to backstop the economy and prevent a crisis as the pandemic shuts companies and leaves many unemployed.
Some fund managers said Wednesday’s outlook downgrade was unlikely to raise the government’s borrowing costs by much though it could hurt Australian companies whose ratings are dependent on the sovereign rating.
“A large proportion of credit funds are mandated to maintain funds in a specific ratings bucket,” said Asmita Kulkarni, Director Investment Strategy at FIIG.
“With potential widespread downgrades we could see funds being forced to sell-down investment which would result in a widening of credit spreads.”
Australian long-dated bonds sold off after S&P’s outlook downgrade with 10-year yields jumping to 0.967 percent from 0.909 percent at Tuesday’s close.
Economists said they do not expect a rating downgrade prior to the federal budget due on Oct. 6.
It was only in September 2018 that S&P upgraded Australia’s outlook to “stable” from “negative” as the budget came close to balance. The government had even projected a surplus for the current fiscal year and next.
While all those predictions are now under water, Australia’s public debt is still in good shape, S&P noted.
“While fiscal stimulus measures will soften the blow presented by the COVID-19 outbreak and weigh heavily on public finances in the immediate future, they won’t structurally weaken Australia’s fiscal position,” S&P said.
“This expected improvement is a key supporting factor of our ‘AAA’ rating.”