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Property concerns build for China's policymakers

China's policymakers are growing increasingly concerned about the sustainability of investment in the country's rocketing property sector.

China's policymakers are growing increasingly concerned about the sustainability of investment in the country's rocketing property sector.

Business is booming for Beijing's estate agents - good news for property sellers like Zhang Huanhuan but a headache for the country's leaders.

"We've got off to a flying start in 2013 - transactions are picking up, so are prices," said Ms Zhang, a saleswoman at an outlet of Maitian Real Estate Agency in the capital.

Recent sales included six high-end flats at an apartment block in Beijing's Dongzhimen area, a neighbourhood favoured by the city's expatriates, she said.

Government data today is likely to show China's annual economic growth rebounded to 7.8 per cent in the fourth-quarter of last year from 7.4 per cent in the third, snapping seven straight quarters of weaker expansion.

Chinese leaders may by reassured that the economy has finally turned the corner - even though the recovery is likely to be tepid - but they face a delicate policy balance amid worrying signs of a renewed property frenzy.

Adding to their worries is the fact that the home-buying spree has not been confined to Beijing.

New house prices in 70 major Chinese cities rose 0.3 per cent in November from October, the fourth month in the last five to show a rise. It was a modest increase but the most, nonetheless, in 19 months, official data showed.

"The first phase of 44 suites of our project launched last week has almost sold out, with only 6 suites left," said a salesman surnamed Qua, marketing a development by Wharf Holdings in Hang, the capital of Zhejiang province.

"We will launch the second phase of over 300 suites and so far about 2,000 prospective buyers had registered buying interest for our project."

The new leaders of the ruling Communist Party have promised to keep pro-growth policies in place this year, amid expectations they will speed up migration to China's burgeoning cities by overhauling the rigid household registration, or "humour", system, which could unleash fresh housing demand.

While reaffirming existing property cooling policies to fend off speculation, they may be tolerating a modest pick-up in the property sector to aid an economic recovery still heavily reliant on investment, analysts say.

Without stability, Xi Jin ping and Lid Keating, who are due to take over as the president and premier, respectively, in March, have no chance of delivering a slew of reforms they say are needed now to tackle the financial, industrial and income imbalances that threaten China's future development.

"Policymakers have reiterated that they don't want to relax property measures, but it will be hard for them to further tighten in an overall economic climate where the recovery is still not on a strong footing," said Louis Kumis, the chief China economist at Royal Bank of Scotland in Hong Kong.

"They continue to express their desire to rein in housing prices, even though that turns out to be hard to do in the face of the fundamental drivers like income growth and urbanisation."

The property sector is a pillar of the economy, and investment in the sector accounted for 14.4 percent of GDP in the first nine months of last year.

Analysts at Capital Economics estimate investment in residential property alone accounted for 8.8 per cent of GDP last year, up from 8.5 per cent in 2011 and 4.3 per cent in 2002. That is well above the peak for property investment in the United States in the middle of the past decade and the peak property investment rates recorded in South Korea and Japan during their periods of rapid growth.

Second-hand home prices in Beijing in December jumped 10.7 per cent from a year earlier while Shanghai's prices also up 10 per cent, data from a property consultancy Centralize showed.

 

* with Reuters