China’s Property Investment Growth Hits 10-Month Low as Economy Slows

China’s Property Investment Growth Hits 10-Month Low as Economy Slows
Residential buildings are seen along the Fourth Ring Road in Beijing, on July 16, 2018. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

BEIJING—Growth in China’s real estate investment in October cooled to a 10-month low and home sales fell again, as developers held back expansion plans in the face of broadly softening economic conditions.

The property market—a key driver of economic growth—has been cooling in recent months, as land auctions tumbled and various tightening measures kept overall home sales in check.

Property investment, which mainly focuses on residential but also includes commercial and office space, grew 7.7 percent in October from a year earlier, slowing from an 8.9 percent expansion in September, Reuters calculated from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data out on Wednesday.

Analysts have warned that weakening momentum in the sector could heighten risks for the broader economy, which is slowing on the back of a heated trade row with the United States and a years-long campaign by authorities to clamp down on easy credit.

Third quarter growth in the world’s second-biggest economy cooled to its weakest quarterly pace since the global financial crisis, and analysts expect a further slackening over the coming year.

The property market has been relatively resilient in the face of a raft of curbs, as many investors exploited regulatory loopholes and turned to smaller and less-restricted cities.

Some speculators are also betting that local governments, which rely on revenue from real estate, will be reluctant to overly tighten the screws in the sector.

Property sales by floor area were down 3.1 percent in October from a year earlier, compared with a 3.6 percent fall in September. In year-to-date terms, property sales rose 2.2 percent in the first ten months, official data showed.

The weakness in the period, dubbed “Golden September and Silver October,” traditionally a high season for new home sales, was mainly led by tepid transactions in bigger cities.

Sentiment started to turn cautious after the second half of 2018 due to a surge in failed land auctions, especially in bigger cities, as developers struggled with thinning margins amid the prolonged curbs and softening economic conditions.

Land transactions by area fell 22 percent in 40 major Chinese cities in October from the preceding month, while the land transaction premium rate was two percentage points lower than September, according to data from CRIC, a private research firm.

As economic headwinds rise, home buyers are staying on the sidelines.

New construction starts measured by floor area rose 14.7 percent in October from a year earlier, compared with a 20.3 percent gain in September, Reuters calculations showed.

China’s real estate developers raised 13.56 trillion yuan ($1.95 trillion) in the first ten months, up 7.7 percent from the same period a year earlier, the NBS said.

The growth rate compared with a 7.8 percent increase in January-September period.

Official data for September showed smaller cities helped quicken China’s new home price growth, with a modest lowering in bank mortgage rates, though the backdrop of a weakening economy is expected to keep sales modest.

Some banks have recently lowered mortgage interest rates by 5 to 10 basis points for first time property buyers, likely a spill-over effect from Beijing’s recent moves to cut banks’ reserve requirements to boost market liquidity, and mortgage loans have been issued at a faster pace nation-wide.

Central bank data this week showed household loans, mostly mortgages, fell to 563.6 billion yuan in October from 754.4 billion yuan in September.

By Lusha Zhang, Stella Qiu & Ryan Woo