BEIJING (Reuters) - Growth in China’s new home prices sustained its momentum in November, with increases seen in provincial centers and smaller cities in a sign policymakers may need to step up curbs to rein in speculation in the property market.
China’s housing market boom has lasted more than two years, giving the economy a major boost but stirring fears of a property bubble, with the government taking stern measures to curtail speculative buying.
Authorities have been particularly focused on curbing lending for speculation in the housing market in a broad effort to defuse financial risks from a rapid build-up in debt.
Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 0.3 percent in November from the previous month, in line with October’s price gains, Reuters calculated from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data out on Monday.
The majority of the 70 cities surveyed by the NBS still reported a monthly price increase for new homes. Fifty cities reported higher prices in November, unchanged from October, indicating broad strength in markets nationwide.
“I think the government would be quite frustrated about today’s data as they wanted to see a bubble squeeze, not a growing bubble,” said Iris Pang, a Hong Kong-based economist at ING.
New home prices rose 5.1 percent year-on-year in November, down from October’s 5.4 percent increase as the pace of growth slowed in the face of government efforts to engineer a soft landing in the housing market.
Yan Yuejin, an analyst with Shanghai-based E-house China R&D Institute, said the widening gains may have to do with “relaxed tightening policies” at the local government level in November.
Central bank data last week showed household loans, mostly mortgages, rose to 620.5 billion yuan ($93.89 billion) in November from 450.1 billion yuan in October, according to Reuters calculations.
While monthly price rises peaked in September 2016 at 2.1 percent nationwide, they have softened only slowly, regaining momentum as buyers shrugged off each new measure to curb speculation.
Prices for new private homes in top-tier cities fell another 0.1 percent in November, after a 0.1 percent decline in October, the NBS said in a note accompanying the data.
In the southern boom town of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, prices fell 0.2 percent after sliding 0.1 percent in October. They fell 3.1 percent from a year earlier.
But as mega-cities like Beijing impose increasingly stringent measures, speculators have moved to smaller centers this year where authorities offer cheap credit and impose few restrictions in the hope of clearing a glut of unsold homes.
While Pang expects more tightening from the policymakers, she sees the persistent price growth triggering a wider fear of missing out among buyers, prompting market participants to purchase properties in smaller cities, including their hometowns.
“If prices keep rising with such a heavy tightening in price, that will create a fear that if they do not buy now, they won’t be able to afford a home later,” she said.
Property prices in China’s Tier-2 cities, mostly sizable provincial capitals, recorded the strongest price growth in November. They rose 0.5 percent from a 0.3 percent increase in October, the NBS said. The smaller tier-3 cities rose 0.4 percent from a 0.3 percent gain in October.
Urumqi, the Tier-2 capital of China’s restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, recorded the biggest monthly price gains of 1.8 percent among the 70 major cities surveyed.
A Reuters’ investigation this month also found mortgage fraud is rampant in China, as unqualified borrowers use fake documents to secure financing, while loans deceptively obtained for other purposes are funneled into property.
While data released last week showed property investment growth in November easing to its slowest since July 2016, property sales by floor area reached a five-month high and housing starts rebounded sharply.
($1 = 6.6088 Chinese yuan)
Reporting by Yawen Chen and Ryan Woo; Editing by Eric Meijer and Sam Holmes