China unveils ‘historic’ rescue for crisis-hit property sector as home prices slump again – CNN

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China has unveiled wide-ranging measures to rescue its property sector, including asking local governments across the country to buy unsold homes from beleagured developers and easing rules on purchases.

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Even though China’s economy expanded faster than expected at the start of this year, growth is being weighed down by the all-important real estate sector, which once accounted for as much as 30% of economic activity.

He Lifeng, vice premier and the Communist Party’s top economic official, said Friday that municipal governments should buy unsold homes and convert them into affordable social housing, in a plan that has been trailed as a major solution for the country’s crisis-ridden property sector.

In a coordinated move, the People’s China of China (PBOC) announced that it will set up a nationwide program to provide 300 billion yuan ($41.5 billion) in loans to fund state purchases of unsold homes.

Tao Ling, deputy governor of the central bank, said at a press conference in Beijing that it will encourage commercials banks to support local state-owned enterprises to buy unsold homes and turn them into social housing. The 300 billion yuan provided by the central bank could eventually underpin 500 billion yuan ($69 billion) worth of credit to support such purchases, she estimated.

Expectations that Beijing was preparing a plan to have local governments across the country buy millions of unsold homes have successfully buoyed China stocks. Investors have been steadily pouring money back into Chinese shares since last month.

China Real Estate Business, a newspaper run by the country’s housing ministry, described the measures as “heavyweight policies” that marked a “significant historic moment” for the real estate sector.

Larry Hu, chief China economist at Macquarie Group, said the move to buy unsold homes was “positive” for the industry, but that the plan was missing key details such as how much would be funded.

“Looking ahead, the key is when and at what scale the central government can provide a funding source,” he wrote in a Friday research note.

China’s local governments have already racked up $15 trillion in debt, much of it hidden, having borrowed heavily in recent years to cover the cost of pandemic-related spending and infrastructure projects.

Decline in sales, investment

Over the past two years, the Chinese authorities have introduced many measures to revive the depressed real estate sector — to little avail. Analysts have long been calling on them to do much more.

Friday’s sweeping rescue measures come as new data suggested the property downturn worsened in April.

Government data published Friday showed that property investment declined 9.8% in the first four months of 2024, accelerating from the 9.5% fall recorded in the first quarter.

New property sales plunged 28.3% in the January-to-April period, compared with a 27.6% drop in January-March. New home prices fell for a 10th consecutive month by 0.6% month-on-month in April, the fastest decline since November 2014, according to Reuters.

“All this bad news seems to have finally triggered a sense of urgency that’s strong enough to force material action,” analysts from Société Générale wrote in a note on Friday.

The analysts were referring to the government’s announcement, PBOC cuts to mortgage rates and the first batch in the sale of one trillion yuan ($138 billion) of ultra-long Treasury bonds on Friday.

On Friday, He also urged local governments to buy back or directly purchase land that has been sold to developers but not yet used. The move would help ease financial difficulties of property companies.

In China, land is mostly owned by the state. The government can sell the rights to use the land to property developers, which is a significant source of fiscal revenue.

The PBOC also made major additional moves to rescue the housing market.

It effectively allowed banks to set their own mortgage rates, removing a nationwide minimum; cut the minimum down-payment ratio for first-time buyers to 15% and 25% for second-home buyers; and lowered the interest rates for housing provident fund loans by 0.25 percentage points, according to three separate statements by the central bank.

CNN’s Xiaofei Xu contributed reporting.

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