Shenzhen bubble deja vu for HK

Editorial | 3 Mar 2016

What's happening in the mainland property market defies common sense.

On the one hand, stockpiles of unsold new homes across the country are huge. On the other hand, home prices in first- tier cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen continue to soar to unprecedented levels.

In Shenzhen, prices have climbed 52 percent over the past year. Gains have been more modest in Shanghai, but they are still more than 17 percent from a year ago.

By comparison, the roughly 10-percent increases in Beijing and Guangzhou seem unimpressive.

The phenomenon is strange, yet not difficult to understand if we look at what's been occurring elsewhere around the mainland.

In less privileged cities, prices remain soft, with few signs of recovery. For example, prices in Hefei, Anhui, and Fuzhou, Guangdong, are 1.5 percent and 1.1 percent up. Shaoguan saw a 0.7-percent drop.

Ghost cities - new developments without residents - remain everywhere.

These contrasting fates are inevitable, for smart money knows where to go. If political will can dictate where money flows, policymakers would have already solved the problems, so that the A-share bull market would still be alive, and the ghost cities would be vibrant with activity.

The sad reality is things don't always go according to plan.

The situation facing the mainland is extraordinary - so much so that Moody's has to cut its outlook on China's credit rating to negative, although it's still cautious enough to leave the country's Aa3 rating unchanged.

It's clear that the property bubble is continuing to build in major cities. To buy a flat, residents braved the winter cold to queue overnight in Shanghai. In Shenzhen, gangsters took up front positions in the queues, only to sell their positions later to buyers at, well, gangster rip-off rates.

Such sights were common in Hong Kong prior to the bursting of the bubble in 1997.

In Shenzhen, a new property is currently priced at 60,000 yuan (HK$71,213) per square meter, or about HK$7,000 per square foot.

Our prices may still seem more costly, but just remember that a Shenzhen worker on average makes 3,764 yuan, or HK$4,467 a month, while Hongkongers earn HK$14,800.

However, central banker Zhou Xiaochuan has insisted mortgages are within safe levels despite the quantum price leaps.

That may be the case officially - which can be deceptive - for it's common for mainlanders to obtain secondary or even higher mortgages via a P2P platform, real-estate agents or finance firms.

In some cases, a loan can be higher than a property's price.

The bubble won't burst as long as prices keep rising.

The problem is that these activities aren't supervised.

After Beijing made it an objective to clear housing inventories, new lending hit a record high of 2.51 trillion yuan in January. It wouldn't surprise me if a significant portion of that finds its way into places like Shenzhen to feed the bubble.

By the way, congratulations if you own properties in Shenzhen, for it may be the time to lock in profits.

But make sure you do so before the bubble bursts.

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