Is Beijing Loosening Its Property Market Policies?

November 12, 2021 Updated: November 13, 2021

Commentary

Over the past several years, the Chinese property market has seen ebbs and flows, but has mostly been on an upward trajectory carefully managed by Beijing.

While that fueled the growth of China’s gross domestic product, it also created property asset bubbles, caused massive debt loads, and contributed to unhealthy wealth gaps. Beijing recently has endeavored to control property market risk by setting limits on how much developers can borrow, but the stringent measures have sent its over-levered developers to the brink of insolvency.

Recently, there have been signs that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is trying to walk back some of the policies. This illustrates the high-wire balancing act CCP regime boss Xi Jinping is currently juggling with China’s economy.

A November report by state-run Xinhua’s Shanghai Securities News found that bank financing of real estate purchases has basically returned to “normal” after slowing down for the first three quarters of 2021.

It stated that while “certain corrections” were being made—no doubt referring to Beijing’s “three red lines” policy from earlier in the year—the “general direction has not changed,” and that reasonable real estate project funding needs are being met.

The southern city of Shenzhen recently relaxed land sale bidding conditions, the first city in China to “backtrack from the draconian measures that have sent the entire country’s real estate industry into a tailspin,” South China Morning Post wrote.

Eleven plots of land were put up for bid by the city, and more than one developer would be allowed to bid at the same price points. Winners would be selected partially based upon the number of “affordable” housing units they plan to build.

On Nov. 10, the Securities Times, a financial newspaper in China, reported that some real estate firms planned to issue debt in the inter-bank market after a recent meeting with China’s inter-bank bond regulators. The offshore bond market is currently frozen to Chinese property firms, so the implicit support from Chinese banks means there’s a market to obtain debt financing domestically.

Chinese regulators in recent weeks have come out and reassured investors and homebuyers that risks were containable, and excessive credit restrictions by banks were being alleviated. There have also been more dialogue and collaboration recently between property developers and regulators.

These are rather subtle but key policy changes; property developers have faced one obstacle after another since early 2021. Evergrande, Kaisa Group, Fantasia, and Modern Land have all missed interest payments in one form or another this year.

The “three red lines” policy restricting debt loads has caused pain for the industry. In short, the policy aims to force deleveraging and improve the financial health of real estate firms. Future access to debt capital depends on their adherence to a set of three strict criteria outlined by the CCP.

What is China going for?

In hindsight, the “red lines” were necessary forced de-risking. This year has seen the most forceful crackdown yet on unbridled property speculation, but whether Beijing can ultimately control the consequences remains to be seen.

Twenty years ago, China’s urban development and housing construction policies made sense. China was 30 percent urbanized, and increasing foreign demand for goods and the country’s fast economic growth drove a demographic shift from rural to urban areas. This necessitated real estate development.

That development and shift also created China’s middle-class, whose wealth is largely made up of real estate. So on some levels, that’s been a success. But as China approaches 70 to 80 percent urbanization, it must avoid the “middle-income trap” experienced by countries that couldn’t advance from an export-based to a service-based economy.

This requires resource allocation away from real estate into technology and service sectors that Xi has been advocating over the past two years. Policies such as “dual circulation” to stimulate internal domestic demand, and pushing for “common prosperity” are part of Xi’s agenda to transform its economic fundamentals.

This does put a strain on local economies, where fees and profits from the sale of land to property developers provided critical revenue for local and provincial governments. A proposed solution in real estate taxation should more than offset that, if existing pilot programs bear fruit and become widely implemented.

In the meantime, much of Chinese citizens’ wealth is still tied to real estate. So Beijing can’t afford to let the property market fail either.

Expect more ebbs and flows ahead. But with China’s economy still struggling with COVID-19, Xi’s margin of error is nonexistent.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Fan Yu
Fan Yu is an expert in finance and economics and has contributed analyses on China's economy since 2015.