November 19, 2018 / 2:46 AM / 24 days ago

Home prices could fall in some smaller Chinese cities in 2019 - Fitch

BEIJING, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Home prices in some smaller Chinese cities could fall next year as the world’s second-largest economy slows, Fitch Ratings said on Monday, while adding the government is expected to step in to stem any precipitous decline.

Nationwide growth in China’s property prices has moderated this year in response to years of cooling measures put in place by local governments to curb speculation. But many investors are still exploiting regulatory loopholes, turning to smaller and less restrictive cities.

A broad slowdown in the economy, however, is threatening to further chill the sector, which in itself is a significant growth driver. Property sales by floor area have been declining month-on-month, though they are still higher this year on the whole compared with 2017.

Homebuilders are likely to face more difficult market conditions in 2019, with slowing economic growth and deteriorating sentiment likely to drag down sales volumes and stifle gains in home prices, Fitch said in a statement, after cutting its outlook on the sector to negative from stable.

But the downturn is likely to be muted, and the government has considerable scope to ease policies to support the market if required, the ratings agency said.

Sales volumes may fall up to 10 percent, following low-single-digit gains in 2018, with declines likely to be the strongest in lower-tier cities, it said.

The smaller cities will be most affected by the scaling back of monetised resettlement of shanty-town residents, Fitch said.

The country’s lower-tier cities have been broadly driving price gains in the overall market this year, partly due to China’s long-term campaign to modernise housing developments.

Shanty-town redevelopment has boosted property demand as residents use cash compensation to buy a new home when their existing one is demolished, analysts say.

China’s home prices have risen for 42 consecutive months, according to data for 70 major cities tracked by the country’s statistics bureau.

Prices of the rest of China’s 600-plus cities are not regularly published by the bureau.

“Home prices are likely to remain largely stable, but could fall in some lower-tier cities. This would represent a significant softening from the 12 percent year-on-year rise in average nationwide prices in January-September 2018,” Fitch said.

“That said, prices will be closely managed by the government, which suggests any price moves will be modest.”

The pool of pent-up demand created by tight restrictions in higher-tier cities will limit sales declines in those areas, Fitch said.

Property developers, in their bid to spur sales, have tried to manipulate prices, deliberately postponing sales to prop up prices, illegally providing loans for downpayment or even publishing false price information, according to the government.

Illegal financing for mortgage downpayments offered by property developers have been on the rise lately as market transactions cooled, according to state media portal Chinanews.com on Sunday. (Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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