China's richest man warns property sector is "biggest bubble in history"

China's richest man warns property sector is "biggest bubble in history"

Local governments in China announced a flurry of property market cooling measures over the weekend, seeking to douse fears about a real estate bubble.

Several cities tightened rules for home purchases, starting with capital city Beijing on Friday, which increased the down payment required on real estate purchases.

First-time buyers must now have a downpayment equivalent to 35 per cent of the purchase price, up from 30 per cent, while buyers of a second property will have to put down at least half of the selling price.

Residents of the inland city of Zhengzhou who already own two properties, as well non-residents who own one in the city, will now only be able to buy homes larger than 180 square meters, according to a notice posted on the local government's website late on Saturday.

The moves come after China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, told CNN that the country's property sector was in the "biggest bubble in history," noting that it was difficult for Beijing to avoid fanning overheated markets in some cities while stimulating broader economic growth.

"I don't see a good solution to this problem," he said. "The government has come up with all sorts of measures - limiting purchase or credit - but none have worked."

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In Chengdu, the capital of southwest Sichuan province, which is renowned for its panda breeding programme, prospective buyers will be allowed to purchase just one property in certain city districts, while those buying a second property will need to place a down payment of no less than 40 per cent of the purchase price, the local government said.

The tier 2 eastern city of Jinan said on Sunday that residents who already owned three properties could not buy more; it also increased down payment requirements for those buying their first home to 30 per cent from 20 per cent, among other measures detailed in a document on the government's website.

Meanwhile, the neighbouring city of Tianjin said it would stop people who do not have the local residence permit from buying a second property in the city's downtown area.

Wuhan, Hefei, Zhangzhou and Suzhou have also recently launched cooling measures, according to a Reuters report.

The measures come ahead of Chinese national holidays this week, and a week after data showed that average new home prices in China's 70 major cities rose 9.2 per cent in August from a year earlier, accelerating from a 7.9 per cent increase in July.

The official survey from the National Bureau of Statistics also showed that new home prices rose 1.5 per cent in August from July. Some cities, however, showed signs of overheating.

Shanghai and Beijing rose 31.2 per cent and 23.5 per cent on-year, respectively, while prices in second tier cities Xiamen and Hefei recorded the biggest gains, of 43.8 per cent and 40.3 per cent respectively, from a year ago.

Some cities were quicker in reacting to the competitive property market.

Last week, housing authorities in Hangzhou, the former G-20 host city and capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang, announced they would suspend a housing policy that encouraged home buying by giving non-resident buyers local household permits.

Hangzhou also increased the minimum down payment ratio by 10 per cent for second-time home buyers who still have unpaid housing loans.

It was a sharp contrast from six months ago, when Hangzhou announced that it would give migrant Chinese families local household permits, to encourage them to buy homes in the city's four counties. Home prices in Hangzhou rose 22 per cent on average in August year-on-year, according to China's National Bureau of Statistics.

The city's property fever was captured on a viral surveillance video that showed buyers breaking down doors to snap up units of a newly-launched property on September 24.

Observers are divided over whether the furious property price gains will be harmful

Some analysts have told CNBC recently that there was froth primarily in first-tier cities, although lower-tier cities were still registering relatively slow growth in prices.

Sean Yokota, SEB Bank's Asia strategy head, told CNBC's "The Rundown" last week that prices were near flat in many cities.

"The big cities (like) Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, do have a bubble forming because of how much the prices have increased, but if you just look at it in aggregate for the entire country, the third tier cities and below still have prices only rising about 1 or 2 per cent," Yokota said. "So I think there are pockets but in aggregate, it's still got some way to go."

However, MCM Partners Ryan Roberts told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Monday that the exuberance was concerning and that the rush to invest in property appeared to be a case of investors moving from one asset class to another.

"Looking at the prices increase in the lower tier cities is more worrying as most markets aren't as liquid; it's looks a bit like desperation," he said, noting that the property market started moving up after Asian markets crashed last year.

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