Big Trouble In Little China

In his weekly letter, John Mauldin provides us with more signs of stress in Chinese property markets. 


The following is an excerpt from a report issued by Simon Hunt included in John’s letter:

The scale of speculation in real estate is enormous. There is a total of 64.5 million apartments and houses lying purchased but vacant in urban China, about five times the surplus in the USA, according to an economist from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

A report written by the National Bureau of Economic Research in July this year provides interesting data on China’s housing market. Real housing prices have risen by 140% since the first quarter of 2007. In the first quarter of this year, house prices rose by a record 41%, since when it appears that prices have stabilised but not fallen. Price increases have not been driven by any shortage in housing.

In Beijing, there has been an almost eight-fold increase in land values since 2003, but since the end of 2007 land prices have nearly tripled. The impact of rising land prices on home and apartment prices has been equally great. From 2003 to 2007, the ratio of land-to-house values hovered between 30% and 40%, but since then it has doubled to just over 60%. The report also found that when a central government state-owned enterprise (SOE) was a winning bidder for land, prices rose by about 27% more than if they had not been involved, thus showing the influence that SOEs bring to bear on land values, an influence that grew in 2009 when they became more active. A separate report shows that so far this year 82% of Beijing’s land auctions have been won by SOEs.

Price-to-rent values in Beijing and seven other large markets across the country have increased from 30% to 70% since the start of 2007.

In summary, against a background of cheap money and plenty of credit, house prices across the country have become unaffordable to most first-time buyers. In Beijing, for instance, average house prices have been between 14 and 15 times incomes for the past three years, but rose to 18.5 times in the first quarter of this year.

The evidence appears to be stacking up against the few remaining property bubbles around the globe.  As we’ve stated previously, an economic hiccup in China is not a prerequisite for a bursting Australian property market, as bubbles of this magnitude often collapse under their own weight.  But we certainly don’t mind having multiple potential catalysts when evaluating the risk/reward of investment themes.  In this case, our Chinese Pin appears to be pointed directly at the Land of Oz.  The potential consequences are alarming . . . even to Jack Burton!!