Chinese authorities are making their biggest effort yet to end a crisis in the country’s vast real estate sector that has weighed heavily on the economy over the past year.
Shares of China’s biggest property developer Country Garden soared as much as 52% in Hong Kong after Beijing on Friday unveiled a 16-point plan that significantly eases a crackdown on lending to the sector.
Key measures include allowing banks to extend maturing loans to developers, supporting property sales by reducing the size of down payments and cutting mortgage rates, boosting other funding channels such as bond issues, and ensuring the delivery of pre-sold homes to buyers.
“In essence, policymakers told banks to try their best in supporting the property sector,” according to Larry Hu, chief China economist for Macquarie Group.
Tao Wang, chief China economist at UBS, described the package of measures as a “turning point” for China’s property sector. Along with other policies announced earlier this year, it could inject more than 1 trillion yuan ($142 billion) into real estate, she estimated.
Chinese developers listed in Hong Kong jumped 11% on average on Monday, leading the broader market higher. Longfor Properties — another top developer — jumped 17% while shares of Dexin China, a Hangzhou-based developer, skyrocketed by 151%.
The rescue package is viewed by many analysts as the strongest signal yet from Chinese authorities that a two-year crackdown on the sector is now over. In August 2020, the government began trying to rein in excessive borrowing by developers to curb runaway house prices.
The problems escalated last year when Evergrande — the nation’s second largest developer — defaulted on its debt. As the property sector crashed, several major companies sought protection from their creditors. The cash crunch meant that work on many pre-sold housing projects across the country was delayed or suspended.
The crisis entered a new phase this summer when angry home buyers refused to pay mortgages on unfinished homes, roiling financial markets and sparking fears of contagion. Since then, authorities have tried to defuse the crisis by urging banks to increase loan support for developers so that they can complete projects. Regulators have also cut interest rates in a bid to restore buyer confidence.
But the property slump persisted, as buyers backed away from the market because of the weak economy and strict Covid curbs. In October, sales by the 100 biggest real estate developers contracted 26.5% from a year ago, according to a private survey by China Index Academy, a top real estate research firm. So far this year, their sales have fallen by 43%.
Along with a strict zero-Covid policy that has squeezed manufacturing and consumer spending, the property woes have dragged on China’s economy. In the third quarter, China’s GDP grew by 3.9% from a year earlier, putting overall growth for the first nine months at just 3%, far below the official target of 5.5% set in March.
While welcoming Friday’s measures, analysts remained cautious about the impact it would have on buyer confidence.
“The property market has yet to show signs of recovery,” said Nomura analysts in a research report on Monday, adding that the latest measures may have “little direct impact” on stimulating home purchases.
“Beijing’s zero-Covid strategy, despite some latest fine tuning, will continue to weigh on the property sector,” they added.