Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Saturday, July 23, 2011

China's spectacular real estate bubble is about to go pop

So you thought that UK housing was unaffordable. Try Beijing and Shanghai, where as can be seen from the graphic below, prices are off the scale relative to income, the commonly used yardstick for measuring affordability. OK, so these are the boom cities of the Chinese economic miracle, but even on a nationwide basis, affordability is no lower than in the UK.

Little noticed amid the furore of the euro crisis, HSBC’S preliminary survey of China’s factories, published this week, indicated manufacturing activity in the world’s second-biggest economy actually declined in July from the month before, the first such contraction in a year. The HSBC purchasing managers index for China has been falling for months now, indicating a protracted fall off in growth as the Chinese authorities act to rein in rampant inflation.

House prices look like being a major victim of this slowdown. Up to a point, this is deliberate policy for China. With the example of the Western property bubble, which ended very badly indeed, serving as a salutary reminder of the dangers of unchecked real estate prices, the Chinese authorities have taken a number of steps to cool the country’s overheated housing market. And it is working; residential property prices have risen on average by “only” 7pc over the last year, and transaction volumes are lower.

But here’s the problem. Residential and commercial property development have been such a big component of growth in recent years that anything that damages the property market risks upsetting the entire apple cart. Nobody can forecast with any certainty when the crash will come, but come it will. You cannot cram that much development into such a short space of time without there eventually being a correction. (more)