After several months of slowing price growth across China's bubbly housing market, if mostly in the lower-tiered cities, last month we reported that China's National Bureau of Statistics confirmed that the latest Chinese housing bubble has finally popped, after housing prices across the 70 cities tracked by the NBS were up 12.7% Y/Y, below the 12.9% annual growth rate in November. This was the first deceleration in year-over-year housing price growth after 19 months of continued acceleration.
Then, overnight, China reported that after the November peak, January house prices decelerated again, and according to Goldman calculations, on a year-over-year, population-weighted basis, housing prices in the 70 cities were up 12.4% vs. 12.7% yoy in December, and 12.9% in November, the second consecutive month of deceleration.
On year-over-year basis, housing price growth moderated in January
On a month-over-month basis, house price inflation decelerated modestly in tier-1 and tier-4 cities, and remained stable in tier 2 and tier 3 cities: In tier-1 cities, January price growth was 0.3% month-over-month after seasonal adjustment, vs. 0.5% in December. In tier-4 cities, property price growth was 0.2% month-over-month after seasonal adjustment, vs. +0.3% in December. Average property price inflation in tier 2/3 cities was 0.5%/0.4% month-over-month after seasonal adjustment respectively in January.
Average house price inflation stabilized in January compared with December
According to Goldman's China analyst, Maggie Wei, "we expect property transactions and house price inflation to slow this year from the rapid growth last year. On the other hand, property construction and investment activities may remain solid, supported by the strong land sales last year. We forecast only a small moderation in property FAI growth this year compared with last year."
Consultancy giant McKinsey, which also is never too late to point out the obvious, said earlier on Wednesday that it sees "early signs of slowdown in China property market", with McKinsey partner Oliver Ramsbottom speaking at an iron conference in Dalian adding that “our belief is that in property market we’re starting to see a slowdown." He added that slower mortgage lending will be key indicator for slowing starts and completions, and that the government's reaction to growth of price appreciation suggests increased focus on cooling, and slower starts.
As a result, he expects cooling in demand for recently red hot commodities such as steel and iron ore.
Another analyst who sees the bursting of China's housing bubble as a big negative for commodities is Axiom Capital's Gordon Johnson, who likewise looked at China's slowing housing data and asked, rhetorically "what’s the significance of these data points?"
His answer: "the last time we had 18 consecutive months of home price acceleration in China (7/31/12-to-12/31/13), iron ore prices rallied, as did steel prices; yet, when year-over-year (“y/y”) growth in home prices turned negative 1/31/14, it marked the beginning of 16 consecutive months of deceleration in home prices, which also ushered in a collapse in both steel prices and iron ore prices, as well as other bulk commodity prices – we remind our readers that Chinese investors use home price growth, y/y, as a catalyst to invest in real estate in China (real estate, by far, is the most steel-intensive sector in China)."
As a result, with the second consecutive deceleration in home price growth in China in 20 months, Axiom sees imminent risk to construction activity, and thus steel/iron ore prices.
His suggestion: sell commodities now.
Furthermore, Johnson has noticed a troubling trend when looking at land sales in China. As detailed in the chart below, land sales in China have shown an acute falloff recently. He reminds readers that land sales are a key funding source for local governments in China, and also lead key indicators of Chinese growth, like freight volumes, by around six months.
Johnson's conclusion: "We see C1Q17 as the exact opposite of C4Q16 (i.e., stocks are rallying, despite what we see as a pending downturn in economic data points in China); with the data already beginning to support this narrative, yet investors completely ignoring it at present, we see an acute reversal in the commodity stocks as likely. At risk of stating the obvious, we do not believe this is consensus thinking at present."
And speaking of rallying stocks, we pose the same question we asked - rhetorically - last month: "now that the Chinese housing bubble has finally hit its inflection point and is headed downward, prompting the momentum chasers to flee, the question is whether the Chinese stock market is about to become the bubble choice du jour, as happened in mid to late 2014 and early 2015, when the bursting of the home bubble once again pushed all the housing speculators into the stock market with scary, if entertaining, consequences. It may not be a bade idea to buy some deep out of the money calls on the Shenzhen composite, as that is the place where the most degenerate of Chinese gamblers eventually congregate to every time the housing bubble bursts, only to be reincarnated two years down the line."
With headlines such as this one in Caixin from last week, "China Relaxes Curbs on Stock-Index Futures Trading", the answer is clearly yes.
Finally, while China will do everything in its power to assure another soft landing for the burst Chinese housing bubble, a curious headline popped up moments ago, one which may assure a far more aggressive selling for Chinese real estate in the coming months: according to Bloomberg, "China Is Doing Preparation Work on Property Tax: Vice Minister" adding that "China will unveil property tax in “timely” manner, Lu Kehua, vice minister of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, says at a briefing in Beijing."
Meanwhile, China's Housing Minister Chen Zhenggao said at the briefing China property prices to “continue to stabilize” in 1Q, and admitted that mainland real estate is about to crash when he said that "China will contain the property bubble and prevent large fluctuations in property market."
Well, thanks for the admission, because few things inspire confidence in artificial real estate values quite like the threat of imminent property taxes (which only those who sell now won't have to pay) coupled with the local housing minister admitting the entire housing market in a bubble that has now burst.