China property investment rises in April as controls eat into sales

BEIJING (Reuters) - Real estate investment in China rose in April from March although sales growth was significantly slower, suggesting investment in the sector remained robust even as intensified government controls to rein in the market began to take effect.

A woman walks past residential buildings in Beijing, July 15, 2016. Picture taken July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Growth in property investment, which mainly focuses on residential but also includes commercial and office space, accelerated to 9.6 percent in April from a year earlier, compared to 9.4 percent in March, according to Reuters calculations based on data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Real estate investment is a major driver of the economy affecting more than 40 other sectors. But worries over the potential bursting of price bubbles in China’s biggest cities have led to a flurry of government cooling measures in recent months as buyer demand appeared to be more resilient than expected.

The area of property sold grew 15.7 percent in January-April from the same period a year earlier, down from 19.5 percent in the first three months of the year, the NBS said.

In April alone, sales grew 7.7 percent, the lowest since December 2015 and well short of the 14.7 percent increase in March.

New construction starts measured by floor area, a telling indicator of developer confidence and correspondingly volatile, rose 11.1 percent in the first four months of the year, moderating from a 11.6 percent rise in the first three months, the bureau said.

Prices in China’s sizzling property market accelerated in March on a monthly basis, shaking off the impact of recent cooling measures introduced to dampen speculative demand.

Home prices in China’s biggest cities were likely to rebound if government curbs were relaxed, a senior official from the country’s top economic planner was quoted as saying in late April, suggesting authorities are in no mood to lift restrictions soon.

Some 1.7 trillion yuan ($247 billion) in property loans were issued in the first quarter of 2017, central bank data showed, reflecting robust demand in the sector.

But analysts say China’s hot property market appeared to have peaked and investment usually lags behind sales trends. Regulators intensified the crackdown on speculators by rolling out more draconian measures in big cities from late March.

China’s liquidity conditions have also been tightened in the past few weeks, driven mainly by fortified regulatory efforts at financial deleveraging since late March. Various Chinese cities also adopted more lending restrictions to curb credit risks.

The rate of inventory destocking appeared to be quickening in response to robust demand in recent months. Growth in inventory floor area in the first four months was 7.2 percent lower than one year earlier, compared with a fall of 6.4 percent in the January-to-March period.

Reporting by Kevin Yao and Yawen Chen; Editing by Eric Meijer