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FORMER UBS Group AG economist Jonathan Anderson once called it “the most important sector in the universe.”
More than a decade on, Chinese property is again grabbing the attention of global investors – this time for all the wrong reasons.
Mounting signs of stress this week in an industry that accounts for about a quarter of the world’s second-largest economy have roiled China’s credit markets, dragged down the nation’s bank stocks and pummelling commodities from iron ore to copper.
After a burst of optimism earlier this year that looser regulatory curbs might stem the industry’s debt crisis, investors are getting spooked by rolling Covid lockdowns and a rapidly escalating homebuyer boycott of mortgage payments on stalled projects.
The bigger worry is that a widespread loss of confidence in real estate will put major strain on China’s economy and financial system, which is sitting on 46 trillion yuan (RM30 trillion) of outstanding mortgages and still has 13 trillion yuan (RM8.6 trillion) of loans to the country’s beleaguered developers.
“Property has been getting steadily worse the whole time; prices, sales, starts, all terrible,” says Craig Botham, chief China economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics in London.,
“The chronic deterioration has now taken another step. It was always going to hit the financial sector eventually, given the prevalence of collateral in loan books with large real estate portions.”
The turmoil this week has battered what was already one of the world’s most stressed industries. The average yield on Chinese junk dollar debt, which is dominated by developers, has surged to almost 26%.
Selling has also spread to investment-grade builders, with a bond issued by China Vanke Co, the nation’s second-largest builder by sales, falling to a record-low of 81.6 cents on the dollar on Tuesday.
China’s zero-Covid policy is exacerbating the situation by damping demand for property and depressing economic activity. Lockdowns remain commonplace in China, which continues to stick to a policy of keeping out the virus with stringent curbs.
A recent flare-up in Shanghai has sparked concern the city could be heading for another lockdown. Concern that mortgage boycotts will lead to a rise in souring loans sent a gauge of Chinese bank shares to its lowest level since March 2020.
Chinese authorities held emergency meetings with major banks this week to discuss the mortgage boycotts on concern that more buyers may follow suit, according to people familiar with the matter.