Two months ago, we observed the record plunge in Hong Kong home sales when according to Land Registry data, a paltry 2,826 registered residential transactions were record, down 14.4% from October and what we thought was an amazing 41.7% less than in November last year. This was the lowest print in the history of the series.
Little did we know just how bad it would get just two months later.
As we said in our last check on the HK housing market, the weakness was sharp and widespread, with sales of new homes declining to a three-month low. In the primary residential market, the number of home sales also declined 26.4 per cent month on month to 1,023 last month, according to Centaline. The total value reached HK$8.97 billion, down 15.4 per cent from October’s HK$10.6 billion.
Latly we presented some comments from local analysts, who perhaps unwilling to accept the reality, remained optimistic:
“The fall in transaction volume and value for new home sales due to an absence of big project launches early last month,” said Derek Chan, head of research at Ricacorp Properties. He expects to see an obvious increase in sales of new homes this month given more major projects are due to be offered for pre-sale. Most of new projects launches will focus in the western New Territories ,” he said.
We concluded in early December that while "optimism is good... if and when this global housing luxury weakness mostly due to the withdrawal of the Chinese marginal "hot money" buyer crosses back into the Chinese border, all bets about the so-called tepid Chinese economic will be off, and since it will be just the moment when China resumes cutting rates, devaluaing its currency and maybe even officially (as opposed to the ongoing unofficial iterations) launching QE, that will be when one should buy commodities, as China does everything in its power to keep the house of $30 trillion in cards from toppling and sending a deflationary tsunami around the entire world."
So far China has only devalued, and so far there has been no effect on boosting commodity prices; meanwhile the deflationary tsunami is just getting worse as a result of the BOJ entering currency wars most recently by launching NIRP last week.
Which brings us to the latest Hong Kong housing data, and we can now officially say that any optimism about Hong Kong is officially dead.
First, as the chart below show, January Hong Kong home prices tumbled the most since July 2013, and after a 12 year upcycle, prices are now down a whopping 10% from the recent peak just four short months ago. Some analysts expect prices to fall more than 30 per cent by 2017 according to SCMP.
In other words, the bubble has clearly burst.
But not only has the Hong Kong housing bubble burst, it has done so in spectacular fashion: as quoted by the SCMP, the local Centaline Property Agency estimates that total Hong Kong property transactions in January were on track to register the worst month since 1991, when it started compiling monthly figures. In other words, the biggest drop in recorded history!
Total transactions are likely to have hit 3,000, it said in a survey released on Sunday. With developers slowing down new launches, only 394 units were sold in the first 27 days of January, 80.3 per cent lower than the 2,127 deals lodged in December. Meanwhile, sales of used homes fell by a fifth to 1,276 deals in January.
A similar picture emerges from another survey by Ricacorp Properties, which shows 2,908 deals were lodged with the Land Registry in the first 28 days of January.
In other words, the market is in shock from the collapse in demand, and has effectively been halted until it regroups as sellers, clearly not desperate to chase collapsing bids, simply withdraw offers.
Sure enough, according to SCMP, "the recent withdrawals of government land sales as a result of poor bids and the return of negative-equity homeowners are adding to strains in a rapidly weakening Hong Kong property market, with analysts saying developers will be forced to cut prices aggressively to stay afloat."
What is causing this unprecedented collapse? One explanation is the infamous Fed butterfly flapping its rate hike wings and leading to a housing market crash half way around the world:
Analysts said developers slowed down new launches after the US implemented its first interest rate in a decade. Hong Kong commercial banks are expected to follow suit in the coming months, pulling up mortgage rates.
“Developers have to offer very attractive prices if they want to find buyers for their flats,” said Derek Chan, head of research at Ricacorp, adding that developers might even have to offer units at prices below the secondary market.
There's that, or there is the far simpler Chinese response to the Fed rate hike which has sent shockwaves everywhere from the Chinese forex market to the Hong Kong interbank market where liquidity a few weeks ago virtually disappeared overnight as the PBOC tried to crush and squeeze offshore Yuan sellers. It also means that mainland Chinese buyers, suddenly facing a draconian escalation in capital controls, are suddenly unable to park hot money in the HK market.
As for the local housing market expect it to remain in a state of suspended animation for a long time.
Developers are eager to add to their land banks when the market is good but may become more selective in tougher times, especially given the anticipated new supply set to hit the market in the next two to three years, said Chow. “More withdrawals will be seen if the government does not revise the reserved prices.”
And then there was the issue of negative equity mortgages which somehow have appeared despite just a modest 10% correction from all time highs. One can only imagine the kind of leverage involved in these transactions:
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) on Friday announced that the estimated number of residential mortgage loans that are in so-called negative equity had hit 95 as of December, according to its latest survey. The total value of these home loans amounted to HK$418 million.
This was the first time the surveyed authorised instiatutions reported negative equity cases since the end of September 2014, said the HKMA.
According to HKMA data, the number of homeowners with negative equity – before the phenomenon resurfaced again lately – had fallen to zero from its peak at 105,697 in July 2003 at the height of a property downturn when home prices plunged up to 70 per cent.
Amusingly, last February, the HKMA supposedly tightened the loan-to-value ratio to 60 per cent from 70 per cent for flats under HK$7 million. New owners hence have a 40 per cent equity buffer, said Chow, but said some negative-equity cases would occur among those who have borrowed from non-bank financial companies. That, or the regulations of the monetary authority were simply ignored because, just like in the US in 2005, housing could only go up: just ask Ben Bernanke.
Well, now it is not only not going up, but it is crashing, and if the situation on the margin is this bad in one of the world's wealthiest enclaves, one can only imagine what is happening in mainland China.