Beyond Evergrande, China’s Property Market Faces a $5 Trillion Reckoning

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Developers have huge debt. Now home sales have plummeted, Beijing is banning borrowing and buyers are balking at higher prices.

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As many economists say China enters what is now the final phase of one of the biggest real-estate booms in history, it is facing a staggering bill: According to economists at Nomura, $ 5 trillion plus loans that developers had taken at a good time. Holdings Inc.

The debt is almost double that at the end of 2016 and last year exceeded the overall economic output of Japan, the world’s third-largest economy.

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With warning signs on the debt of nearly two-fifths of growth companies borrowed from international bond investors, global markets are poised for a potential wave of defaults.

Chinese leaders are getting serious about addressing debt by taking a series of steps to curb excessive borrowing. But doing so without hurting the property market, crippling more developers and derailing the country’s economy is turning into one of the biggest economic challenges for Chinese leaders, and one that resonates globally when mismanaged. could.

Luxury Developer Fantasia Holdings Group Co.

It failed to pay $206 million in dollar bonds that matured on October 4. In late September, Evergrande, which has more than $300 billion in liabilities, missed two interest-paying deadlines for the bond.

A wave of sell-offs hit Asian junk-bond markets last week. On Friday, bonds of 24 of 59 Chinese growth companies on the ICE BofA Index of Asian Corporate Dollar Bonds were trading at over 20% yields, indicating a high risk of default.

Some potential home buyers are leaning, forcing companies to cut prices to raise cash, and could potentially accelerate their slide if the trend continues.

According to data from CRIC, a research arm of property services firm e-House (China) Enterprise Holdings, overall sales among China’s 100 largest developers were down 36 per cent in September from a year earlier. Ltd.

It revealed that the 10 largest developers, including China Evergrande, Country Garden Holdings Co.

and china wenke Co.

, saw a decline of 44% in sales compared to a year ago.

Economists say most Chinese developers remain relatively healthy. Beijing has the firepower and tighter control of the financial system needed to prevent the so-called Lehman moment, in which a corporate financial crisis snowballs, he says.

In late September, Businesshala reported that China had asked local governments to be prepared for potentially intensifying problems in Evergrande.

But many economists, investors and analysts agree that even for healthy enterprises, the underlying business model—in which developers use credit to fund steady churn of new construction despite the demographic less favorable for new housing—is likely to change. Chances are. Some developers can’t survive the transition, he says.

Of particular concern is some developers’ practice of relying heavily on “presales”, in which buyers pay upfront for still-unfinished apartments.

The practice, more common in China than in the US, means developers are borrowing interest-free from millions of homes, making it easier to continue expanding but potentially leaving buyers without ready-made apartments for developers to fail. needed.

According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, pre-sales and similar deals were the region’s biggest funding sources since August this year.

“There is no return to the previous growth model for China’s real-estate market,” said Hous Song, a research fellow at the Paulson Institute, a Chicago think tank focused on US-China relations. China is likely to put a set of limits on corporate lending, known as the “three red lines” imposed last year, which helped trigger the recent crisis on some developers, he added. That China can ease some other restrictions.

While Beijing has avoided explicit public statements on its plans to deal with the most indebted developers, many economists believe leaders have no choice but to keep the pressure on them.

Policymakers are determined to reform a model fueled by debt and speculation as part of President Xi Jinping’s broader efforts to mitigate the hidden risks that could destabilize society, especially at key Communist Party meetings next year. before. Mr. Xi is widely expected to break the precedent and extend his rule to a third term.

Economists say Beijing is concerned that after years of rapid home price gains, some may be unable to climb the housing ladder, potentially fueling social discontent, as economists say. The cost of young couples is starting to drop in large cities, making it difficult for them to start a family. According to JPMorgan Asset Management, the median apartment in Beijing or Shenzhen now accounts for more than 40 times the average family’s annual disposable income.

Officials have said they are concerned about the risk posed by the asset market to the financial system. Reinforcing developers’ business models and limiting debt, however, is almost certain to slow investment and cause at least some slowdown in the property market, one of the biggest drivers of China’s growth.

The real estate and construction industries account for a large portion of China’s economy. Researchers Kenneth S. A 2020 paper by Rogoff and Yuanchen Yang estimated that industries, roughly, account for 29% of China’s economic activity, far more than in many other countries. Slow housing growth could spread to other parts of the economy, affecting consumer spending and employment.

Government figures show that about 1.6 million acres of residential floor space were under construction at the end of last year. This was roughly equivalent to 21,000 towers with the floor area of ​​the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world.

Housing construction fell by 13.6% in August below its pre-pandemic level, as restrictions on borrowing were imposed last year, calculations by Oxford Economics show.

Local governments’ income from selling land to developers declined by 17.5% in August from a year earlier. Local governments, which are heavily indebted, rely on the sale of land for most of their revenue.

Another slowdown will also risk exposing banks to more bad loans. According to Moody’s Analytics, outstanding property loans—mainly mortgages, but also loans to developers—accounted for 27% of China’s total of $28.8 trillion in bank loans at the end of June.

As pressure on housing mounts, many research houses and banks have cut China’s growth outlook. Oxford Economics on Wednesday lowered its forecast for China’s third-quarter year-on-year GDP growth from 5% to 3.6%. It lowered its 2022 growth forecast for China from 5.8% to 5.4%.

As recently as the 1990s, most city residents in China lived in monotonous residences provided by state-owned employers. When market reforms began to transform the country and more people moved to cities, China needed a massive supply of high-quality apartments. Private developers stepped in.

Over the years, he added millions of new units to modern, streamlined high-rise buildings. In 2019, new homes made up more than three-quarters of home sales in China, less than 12% in the US, according to data cited by Chinese property broker Kei Holdings Inc. in a listing prospectus last year.

In the process, developers grew to be much bigger than anything seen in the US, the largest US home builder by revenue, DR Horton. Inc.,

Reported assets of $21.8 billion at the end of June. Evergrande had about $369 billion. Its assets included vast land reserves and 345,000 unsold parking spaces.

For most of the boom, developers were filling a need. In recent years, policymakers and economists began to worry that much of the market was driven by speculation.

Chinese households are prohibited from investing abroad, and domestic bank deposits provide low returns. Many people are wary of the country’s booming stock markets. So some have poured money into housing, in some cases buying three or four units without the intention of buying or renting them out.

As developers bought more places to build, land sales boosted the national growth figures. Dozens of entrepreneurs who founded growth companies are featured on the list of Chinese billionaires. Ten of the 16 soccer clubs of the Chinese Super League are wholly or partially owned by the developers.

Real-estate giants borrow not only from banks but also from shadow-banking organizations known as trust companies and individuals who invest their savings in investments called wealth-management products. Overseas, they became a mainstay of international junk-bond markets, offering juicy produce to snag deals.

A builder, Kaisa Group Holdings Ltd.

, defaulted on its debt in 2015, was still able to borrow and later expand. Two years later it spent the equivalent of $2.1 billion to buy 25 land parcels, and $7.3 billion for land in 2020. This summer, Cassa sold $200 million of short-term bonds with a yield of 8.65%.

Nomura estimated that by June, Chinese developers had…

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