China's Housing Bubble Goes Mainstream America

Tyler Durden's picture

It has been four years since we first introduced the non-believing world to China's ghost cities. Two years later, we revisited to check on the widescale immigration that was expected to occur into these salubrious suburbs. Alas, another epic Keynesian fail as we so delicately described the 'if we build it, they will come' mentality. Now, four years after the news of the Chinese real estate bubble began to break on tin-foil hat-wearing blogs, the mainstream media (to wit, Sixty Minutes) have gone in depth - taking a wonderfully eery trip through these ghost cicties explaining the growing (and in some places popping) bubble in Chinese real estate markets. The incredulous host concludes this chilling saga, "Meanwhile, people who can afford it are still buying as much real estate as they can... potential buyers crowding buses to see new construction and new owners line up to register their new apts... Like us in our bubble, they just don't believe the good times will ever end."




CBS Sixty Minutes Transcript:

If trouble comes in threes, then what'll be the next global market to melt down after the U.S. and Europe? Some are looking nervously at China.

China has been nothing short of a financial miracle. In just 30 years, this state-controlled economy became the world's second largest, deftly managed by government policies and decrees.

One sector the authorities concentrated on was real estate and construction. But that may have created the largest housing bubble in human history. If you go to China, it's easy to see why there's all the talk of a bubble. We discovered that the most populated nation on earth is building houses, districts and cities with no one in them.



Lesley Stahl: So this is Zhengzhou. And we are on the major highway, or the major road. And it's rush hour.


Gillem Tulloch: Yeah -


Lesley Stahl: And it's almost empty.


Gillem Tulloch is a Hong Kong based financial analyst who was one of the first to draw attention to the housing bubble in China. He's showing us around the new eastern district of Zhengzhou, in one of the most populated provinces in China - not that you'd know it. We found what they call a "ghost city" of new towers with no residents, desolate condos and vacant subdivisions uninhabited for miles, and miles, and miles, and miles of empty apartments.


Lesley Stahl: Why are they empty? I've heard that they have actually been sold.


Gillem Tulloch: They've all been sold. They've all been sold.


Lesley Stahl: They've all been sold? They're owned.


Gillem Tulloch: Absolutely.


Owned by people in China's emerging middle class, who now have enough money to invest but few ways to do it. They're not allowed to invest abroad, banks offer paltry returns, and the stock market is a rollercoaster. But 15 years ago, the government changed its policy and allowed people to buy their own homes and the flood gates opened.


Gillem Tulloch: So what they do is they invest in property because property prices have always gone up by more than inflation.


Lesley Stahl: And they believe it will always go up?


Gillem Tulloch: Yeah, just like they believed in the U.S.


Actually, property values have doubled and tripled and more -- so people in the middle class have sunk every last penny into buying five, even 10 apartments, fueling a building bonanza unprecedented in human history. No nation has ever built so much so fast.


Lesley Stahl: How important is real estate to the Chinese economy? Is it central?


Gillem Tulloch: Yes. It's the main driver of growth and has been for the last few years. Some estimates have it as high as 20 or 30 percent of the whole economy.


Lesley Stahl: But they're not just building housing. They're building cities.


Gillem Tulloch: Yes. That's right.


Lesley Stahl: Giant cities being built with people not coming to live here.


Gillem Tulloch: Yes. I think they're building somewhere between 12 and 24 new cities every single year.


Unlike our market driven economy, in China it's the government that has spent some $2 trillion to get these cities built - as a way of keeping the economy growing. The assumption is "if you build it, they'll come." But no one's coming.


Lesley Stahl: Wow. This is really completely, totally empty and it goes up -


Gillem took us to this shopping mall that's been standing vacant for three years.


Lesley Stahl: Can I find this all over China?


Gillem Tulloch: Yes, you can. They've simply built too much infrastructure too quickly.


Lesley Stahl: But I see KFC behind you. I see Starbucks over there. I see some other very recognizable American franchises coming in here. At least they-- does that mean they have faith that this is going to ignite?


Gillem Tulloch: No, these are all fake signs. Just to get potential buyers the impression of what it might look like if they moved in.


Lesley Stahl: They're not real? So I see KFC didn't-


Gillem Tulloch: They haven't--


Lesley Stahl: Buy this space or rent this space?


Gillem Tulloch: No, they haven't.


Lesley Stahl: Starbucks?


Gillem Tulloch: No.


Lesley Stahl: They just put the sign up?


Gillem Tulloch: That's right.


It's all make-believe -- non-existent supply for non existent demand.


Lesley Stahl: Look at that. Swarovski. Piaget. They're hoping for high end too.


Gillem Tulloch: H&M. Zara.


Lesley Stahl: And it's all Potemkin.


Gillem Tulloch: Yeah.


It's surreal and it's everywhere. Like the city of Ordos in Mongolia built for a million people who didn't show up. And no, you are not in England. You're in Thames town -- a development near Shanghai built like an English village.


Gillem Tulloch: And it was finished, I think, around five or six years. And it must have cost close to a billion U.S. dollars. And you'll see, it's still standing there empty.


Lesley Stahl: Well, I heard that there is some industry there or some business, one business there.


Gillem Tulloch: Marriage.


Lesley Stahl: Wedding pictures!


And what's more uplifting than a wedding -- or 10? You can see these empty developments on the edge of almost every city in China.


Lesley Stahl: What about the idea that China is urbanizing? People are flooding into cities by the hundreds of millions. And that this really is a smart move: build the housing to accommodate the urbanization process.


Gillem Tulloch: Well, so people are being moved into the cities. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they can afford these apartments which, you know, cost $100,000 U.S. or whatever. I mean, these are poor people moving into the cities, so they're building the wrong sort of apartments.


And what's worse, to build all these massive cities, they've had to tear down what was there before, clearing rice fields and displacing by some counts tens of millions of villagers. On the edge of Zhengzhou, Gillem and I came upon a strange sight.


Lesley Stahl: I'm just watching what they're doing, these-- do you have any idea?


Gillem Tulloch: I think they're trying to recycle the bricks.


These villagers were salvaging what's left of their homes, bulldozed to make room for more empty condos, already encroaching in the distance.


Lesley Stahl: There are all these empty apartments over here. Can they conceivably move into those up-scale places?


Gillem Tulloch: Most people in China live on about less than $2 a day. And these apartments probably cost upwards of $50,000 or $60,000 U.S. So it's very unlikely.


Lesley Stahl: What will happen to them, do you think?


Gillem Tulloch: I mean, they'll be forced to relocate somewhere. I have no idea where they'll go.


These are the immediate casualties of the building boom. And there's another problem: analysts warn that all this building has created a bubble that could burst.


Lesley Stahl: So if the bubble bursts, who's left holding the bag?


Gillem Tulloch: There are multiple classes of people that are going to get wiped out by this. People who have invested three generations worth of savings -- so grandparents, parents and children - into properties will see their savings evaporate. And then, of course, 50 million construction workers who are working on all these projects around China.


The prognosis of a bubble about to burst isn't only coming from financial gloom-and-doomers. We heard it from the most unlikely source.


Lesley Stahl: Are you the biggest home builder in the world?


Wang Shi: I think. Maybe.


Lesley Stahl: You may be?


Wang Shi: Yes. Only the quantity, not quality.


Wang Shi is modest, but his company, Vanke, is a $53 billion real estate empire, building more homes than anyone in China. He was born on the frontlines of communism, and joined the Red Army. But he secretly read forbidden books about capitalism, so that when China liberalized its economy, he rushed to the frontlines of the free market. Even he thinks today's situation is out of control.


Lesley Stahl: Are homes in China too expensive today?

Wang Shi: Yeah.

Lesley Stahl: Here's a number I saw. A typical apartment in Shanghai costs about 45 times the average resident's annual salary.

Wang Shi: Even higher, even higher.

Lesley Stahl: What does that mean for your economy if it's just too expensive for the vast majority of people to buy?

Wang Shi: I think that dangerous.

Lesley Stahl: Dangerous.


Wang Shi: That's the bubble. So I think that's the problem.


Lesley Stahl: Is there a bubble?


Wang Shi: Yes, of course.


Lesley Stahl: There is a bubble and the issue is will it burst or not? That's the big issue--


Wang Shi: Yes, if that bubble - that's a disaster.


Lesley Stahl: If it burst?


Wang Shi: If it burst, that's a disaster.


To try and prevent the disaster the Chinese government decided to act. Heard of their one child policy? Since 2011, China has had what amounts to a one apartment policy, where it's very hard to buy more than one apartment in major cities. Because of this, prices plunged. The bubble was being tamed. And yet, the taming was creating all kinds of unintended consequences.


Lesley Stahl: Are many developers in debt?


Wang Shi: Yes, yes.


Lesley Stahl: And are many stopping development in the middle of projects 'cause they don't have the money to go forward?


Wang Shi: Yeah, that's problem. That's a huge problem.


A problem because the slowing down of construction led to a downturn in the overall economy. Unfinished projects dot China, and not just apartment buildings.


Lesley Stahl: Look at this. Can you believe it?


Analyst Anne Stevenson-Yang who has traveled across China showed us a giant project all but abandoned in the port city of Tianjin with concrete skeletons as far as the eye can see. The plan is to build a new financial district to rival Manhattan including a Lincoln Center and a World Trade Center, only taller. But it all seems frozen.


[Anne Stevenson-Yang: There's supposed to be a Rockefeller Center here.


Anne Stevenson-Yang: I hope they have a Christmas tree too. Skating rink.]


City officials told us everything stopped because developers want to build all the facades at once to match. But on the ground we heard a different explanation.


esley Stahl: Workers told us that many of these buildings haven't had any work done on them for weeks, months, as if the developers just don't have the money to go on.


Anne Stevenson-Yang: It's true. You see that happen first. The migrant workers will go home. That's often the first sign that the debt crisis is starting.


Lesley Stahl: The debt crisis?


Anne Stevenson-Yang: Well, when you stop paying your bills, then everything stops.


It could become a debt crisis because of the huge loans most of the developers took out. If they can't repay them, the whole economy'll seize up.


The government's great fear is that all this could lead to social unrest and that's not hypothetical.


Last year when home prices fell, it infuriated all those owners of multiple dwellings, who watched the value of their nest eggs plummet.


esley Stahl: And there's already been some demonstrations over real estate around the country.


Wang Shi: Yes.


Lesley Stahl: Have you had demonstrations against your showrooms anywhere? You're company?


Wang Shi: Often!


So often, Wang Shi shudders to think what would happen if the bubble actually burst.


Wang Shi: If that bubble break, that maybe who know what will happened? Maybe that-- maybe--maybe the next Arabic Spring--


Lesley Stahl: Arabic Spring. You mean people coming out and demonstrating.


Wang Shi: Hmmm.


Lesley Stahl: A lot of economists say that it's too big for even this government to control.


Wang Shi: A ha. I believe that top leaders have enough smart to deal with that. I hope!


Lesley Stahl: You're doing this.


Wang Shi: But that's uncertain.

Meanwhile, people who can afford it are still buying as much real estate as they can. They're even finding ways around the one apartment restriction in big cities. Can't buy in Beijing? Just cross the city line and the boom is in full swing. Flyers advertising new projects, potential buyers crowding buses to see new construction and new owners line up to register their new apts. Like us in our bubble, they just don't believe the good times will ever end.

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otto skorzeny's picture

hugh hendry covered this shit 3 years ago-fucking MSM. repeating now- the Chinese are notorious for terrible investing, getting screwed by whitey and fumbling chances to be a world superpower throughout history.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

Chinese citizenism housing bubble is blobbing up.

flacon's picture

Humanity is going to get their asses spanked. Spanked hard. Really hard. In fact so hard that I wonder if most of humanity is going to survive this coming spanking. 

Squid-puppets a-go-go's picture

The inhabitants of these ghost cities can drink their 'ghost coke' from yesterday's post

TruthInSunshine's picture

 "There's never been a better time to buy, build, invest in, flip, hold, or do anything else (especially including going deep into debt or expending/exhausting savings) in order to come into ownership of any residential real estate in China."

-- Co-Statement by China's Versions of The National Association of Realtors,  The National Association of Home Builders, The National Association of Mortgage Brokers, and your local assessor's office.


*And Remember that 2007 through 2010 U.S. new home "sales" were only revised downward by a mere 3 million units!

vato poco's picture

But....but...Confucius! Inscrutable! Sun Tzu! Blind Master Po!! You're saying that was just all bullshit, & chinese are no different than anyone else?!?

TruthInSunshine's picture

If people of even average intelligence are able to think objectively, they'll inevitably conclude that there are larger bubbles over a larger swath of the globe, representing credit/debt of historic, monumental, record scale (in real terms), that is the direct result of insane fractional reserve central bank monetary policies (as in plural central banks; the Fed, the ECB, the PBOC, BOJ, BOE, etc.).

It's all going to end in a global economic depression.

Some dare say that this has already begun.

Karl von Bahnhof's picture

China policy:

"Better empty cities than dollars!"

Induced Coma's picture

I enjoy working with my hands and building things. I built my home, and have other buildings planned for my property. I could never do it for a living. Some of these videos of buildings/infrastructure that is unused and will go to waste makes me feel sad. When you see the sharp contrast of people with very little being forced to move, against the backdrop of ghost cities - it is depressing.


fourchan's picture

what china is doing with housing, bernake is doing with the dollar.

Matt's picture

Hey, at least when the Chinese spent $1 Billion to build Thames Town, lots of people got actual work out of it, rather than a bunch of economists and bankers circle jerking with $85 Billion each month. I wonder what the build quality is like; probably better than the 2007 developements here in the West. 

tip e. canoe's picture

actually what china is doing is being fueled by what the bernank is doing with the dollar.

Greenspan's bubble simply got exported.

MedTechEntrepreneur's picture

What Francis...cant blame this on the Joooo's?  Or can youuuuuu....

francis_sawyer's picture

I've moved on to the evil episcopalians...

JimBowie1958's picture

Fuckng dirty Episcopalians.....


Look at what they did to all them there monestaries; bastards!

otto skorzeny's picture

I've got my gag ball ready

bigyimmy007's picture

Yup instead of economics being utilized to drive us closer to sustianability, the "leaders" (that's being generous) have merely perverted it into quick profit and power gains, at the expense of mankind ever being able to grow and live in harmony with one another.


Nature is going to spank the shit out of humanity.

indygo55's picture

I was waiting for her to ask if any of the properties were in foreclosure.

Vendetta's picture

that would require probing questions like that of a journalist, stahl isn't one.

TwoShortPlanks's picture

China only needs another 2 years to position itself for the wealth transfer...2 years tops!

I reckon they've moved even faster than that.

Those cities aren't meant to be empty, they're meant to house Chinese who bought Gold.

mjcOH1's picture

Looks more like they're meant to sop up excess capacity in everything from concrete to labor.    But they're sure to be tasty and nutritious when the music stops.

JOYFUL's picture


No matter how clear the evidence that, to Westerners, the Han culture remains 'inscrutable,' the peanut gallery goes gaga over the perceived 'failures' of Chinese policy...thereby failing, as ever, to understand the masterstroke behind the apparent cock-up...

millenia of philosophic distillations of the lessons of Sun Tzu and other strategists have granted the current crop of post-soviet experiment Chinese leaders the luxury of countering the apparent contradictions of capitalism\socialism with pragmatic applications of common sense...something long gone missing from political handbooks in the formerly 'first' world...

That entire cities, and dense infrastructures have been built up via the private capital of a citizenry who voluntarily fulfill the dictates of the leadership's domestic policy is lost upon the the scoffers who continue to believe that their own brand of volunteered slavery to the crony capitalism of a statist behemoth disguised as 'democracy' grants them a superior status to the eastern prole...


Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate. Sun Tzu....A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves Lao Tzu
like the fate of their wealth, which drop by drop finds it's way east, the reality of the sophisticated opponent they face is lost upon the guffawing gaggle of CampFema pre-registrants...whose only apparent recourse, when faced with the choice of waking up or getting buried, is to hit that down button with a satisfying thump!   Too funny .


TwoShortPlanks's picture

Well that was....Joyful.

And you are correct; so many Westerners rejoice at the Eastern slip-ups, but are they?! They will comprise the Soup Kitchen line anyway.

Funny, you don't hear about PBoC leasing out any Gold, but we won't look at such realities.

TwoShortPlanks's picture

Oh, just to make reality crystal clear; I observed 11 new Dr Interns at a Hospital today, 10 of which were...*drum roll*... Chinese!

They don't think about themselves, they think about their Grandkids. Grandparents are therefore respected. Westerners put Grandparents in Homes. We sow our own seeds!

How do you like them Apples?

JOYFUL's picture

Taking a walk through any public park in China, from dawn to dusk, gives one all the perspective needed to size up the coming futures of "east" versus "west"...

oldsters flying kites, dance steppin, doin tai chi, sword play, toddlers wandering in n out, all together, all being happy jus bein happy, sounds kinda sappy, but the difference between "us' n "them" is all in the little stuff...the little joys of bein alive, together, as a people, in a shared domain.

vato poco's picture

All wearin goggles & masks because of the incredible pollution, (unable to see the difference between dawn or dusk or high noon), all drinkin from the same river the chem factories dump their waste & overflow in 2 miles upstream, all eatin 'farmed' fish raised on human/animal feces and tons of hormones living in tanks that are never EVER cleaned out, all brushin their teeth with the popular 'antifreeze' brand toothpaste......together, as people, in a shared domain. LOL

Apocalicious's picture

And yet somehow they all manage to be fit and trim living actively into their 80s and 90s with virtually $0 spend on healthcare, while our fat asses blow through $8 K per (just in insurance premos) and die of cancer or heart-attack in our 60s from all our processed, hormone and preservative injected crap and sodium/sugar heavy junk food. That'll show em!

JOYFUL's picture

Your thoughtful and unbiased analysis makes it clear that you've conducted a thorough 'boots on the ground' investigation of the place, and therefore have precedence as an 'informed observer'

... in much the same way one can take our Aanonymous correspondent to be an insightful portrayer of America as it really is.

China's a very big country, with a variety of problems similar in scope and scale to other developed and developing countries. Someday I hope you'll have the opportunity to visit it, and draw some conclusions of your own based on something other than a pastiche of tired cliches.

vato poco's picture

Awww, that was just *sweet*. Say, apropos of nothing, can you give us a translation for the cheerful nickname the plucky, happy-go-lucky chinese bestow uopn westerners in china? How you say it...."Gweilo"?? See, MY phrasebook says it means "foreign devil" or "barbarian", depending on context & tone, but that can't be right, can it?? 'Cause that's not friendly at ALL!!

Or is that too merely a tired cliche?

JOYFUL's picture

Actually, it works out something more like

"Big-nosed, white-boned foreign demon" at the end of the day...

but don't lose too much sleep over it's more of an endearment, like when the chili-chokers  call us guero down in Browntown...

besides, methinks you might have bigger things to worry bout!

Ghordius's picture

"shared domain" is something you can enjoy in continental europe and even in small, rural places in the UK - I can't live too long in any place that does not have this element of life

Bicycle Repairman's picture

"A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves Lao Tzu"

Hey, didn't Obama say the same thing?

Freddie's picture

Hilarious hearing the CBS libturds fawn over the Chinese communist govt.  They think the Chinese communists really know how to run a country with slave labor, theft of land etc.

I really cracked up when Lesley Stahl said the USA had a market based economy.  LOL!  What a joke.    F TV, F Hollywood!

prains's picture

paging AnAnalogous Anus.......please pick up the red courtesy phone

Teamtc321's picture

It is probably tied up reading, Over population in Chinese citizenism, authored by: We Dong Em Yung

Freddie's picture

Most people in China live on about less than $2 a day.

CBS, the rest of f***king TV and Hollywood are 100% behind Amerika's Mugabe to make sure Americans are "living" on #2 a day soon.

Edit:  LOL!  I meant to say $2 a day but put living on #2 by mistkae as in #1 you take a piss and #2 is when you take a dump.  I bet McDonalds and others may approve it along with the fake tuna that makes you bleed out of your arsehole.

Rip van Wrinkle's picture

Most people in China the US/UK/Spain/Italy/Greece live on about less than $2 a day.


Coming to a country near you.....soon.

Antifaschistische's picture

Dear friends in China....STOP BUYING REAL ESTATE!!!

Buy Gold, Silver, Platinum, Palladium, Copper, Nickel, and Rhodium.   But STOP BUYING REAL ESTATE!

Please send this to all your Chinese friends!!

RobertC's picture

...and why would I do that?  They are increasing defense spending as we are decreasing...let them have a wet dream are 2 before the collapse...

 "China plans to raise its defense budget by 10.7 percent to 720.2 billion yuan (114.3 billion U.S. dollars) in 2013."

fonzannoon's picture

"unlike our market driven economy".....

deepsouthdoug's picture

They're just stupid Commies with money.

willwork4food's picture

No, he means Bush 2.  Wait, he was a decider.

RideTheWalrus's picture

The next 'Great Move Foward' will be when the communists force the poor workers at gun point from the farms and factories into empty high-rise apartments and cafes. These 'new-metro' lifestyles will be promoted with heavy programming in TV and Cinema. Those who will not move will be locked out of the cities and left to die in the fields.

In about 3 generations the new-metro's will be obese, stupid and loaded with debt, in which the communists will engage the third 'Great Move Foward' and at gun point, force the people able to work out of their high-rise homes and into the robot repair & programming gulags. Those who haven't got the brains to program and repair the robot factories will be locked up and left to die in their high-rise apartments.

By this stage, China's population will be in line with Agenda 21 guide lines.


lolmao500's picture

It's all make-believe -- non-existent supply for non existent demand.

Especially with China's population growth crashing... Indians on the other hand could surely use those cities...not to mention Japanese living too close to Fukushima... or North Koreans when the NKorean regime collapses.

There's plenty of FOREIGN demand for these empty cities... domestic demand? Not so much.

flacon's picture

Perhaps a pH Dee from Princeton will figure out a way to export whole cities. 

lolmao500's picture

They just need to do flying cities.

Or maybe China could still employ those construction crews... and go build those cities IN OTHER COUNTRIES WHO NEED THEM?? Send chinese workers to India and NKorea to build modern cities, it would calm down tensions and make money for China.