Major role for property finance regulation

Property financing is facing significant regulatory scrutiny, as policymakers are keen to tighten property controls and stabilize the financial industry, a measure to curb the fast rise of household debt, according to economists.

Raising the mortgage loan interest rate and tightening bank lending to real estate developers will be the major policy tools to secure the healthy development of the housing market in the short term, economists said on Thursday, at a seminar held by the National Institution for Finance and Development, a government-backed financial think tank under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Their comments came after China’s top policymakers achieved a consensus at a high-level meeting in July that property should not be used as a measure to stimulate short-term economic growth.

Some property developers have received verbal guidance from financial regulators to control bond issuance, and there is a “blacklist” for the supervision targets, said Yin Zhongli, chief economist at RiseSun Property Development Ltd and a senior researcher of the institution.

Overseas financing has been tightened since the second quarter for Chinese property developers, and trust fund injection into the property market has also been controlled, Yin said.

Ji Zhihong, vice-president of China Construction Bank, said on Thursday that the bank will further tighten loans to property developers and enhance regulations on fund use.

Further measures will focus on stabilizing house prices and prevent housing financial risks, said a report issued by the National Institution for Finance and Development. It said house prices in China are expected to remain stable in the near future, and the price-rise potential is limited.

The report also suggested to establish special institutions to supervise mortgage loans, in order to prevent risk contagion expanding from the banking sector to the whole financial system.

Mortgage loan risks refer to the rising debt level in the household sector. A separate report from the institution revealed on Tuesday that the leverage ratio in the Chinese household sector had increased to 55.3 percent at the end of the second quarter, up from 53.2 percent by the end of 2018.

Many borrowers have increased short-term consumption loans, instead of mortgage loans, for purchasing houses, especially when the mortgage loan policy was tightened, which has boosted potential risks, the research said.

Strengthened supervision of property financing also means the interest rate of mortgage loans will stay at a relatively high level, according to experts.

The People’s Bank of China, the central bank, issued new policies during the weekend to lock the mortgage loan interest rate’s lower limits: for the first house, individual borrowers will pay an interest rate no less than the loan prime rate (LPR) with the same maturity. For the second house, the lowest borrowing cost is 0.6 percentage point above the LPR, said a statement on the PBOC website.

This means that mortgage loan rates should be no less than other kinds of bank loans, showing policymakers’ determination to control house prices, said economists at the seminar.

The slower growth of the property market is likely to be supplemented by the stronger expansion of infrastructure construction and automobile consumption in the following months, to stabilize economic growth, they added. As economists calculated, the real estate sector accounted for nearly 20 percent of the country’s total GDP growth.

A study from Fitch Ratings showed that China’s new-home sales volume by gross floor area rose 3.4 percent year-on-year, to 115.8 million square meters in July, ending the contraction in the previous two months.