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China and Real Estate Developers

Written By: - Date published: 9:14 am, October 10th, 2021 - 17 comments
Categories: capitalism, China, Deep stuff, Economy - Tags:

Speaking of contagion, China is dealing with an outbreak of real estate market ebola.

Evergrande is in far more serious trouble than Fantasia Holdings, and far larger, but both need to be watched. When China catches a cold, literally …

China faces the same problem we have here, which is trying to rebalance its entire economy after being overly dependent on its massive real estate investment sector for jobs and growth. We’re still dealing with vampires like Eric Watson, one of our worst. China has their own.

The Chinese central government has been maintaining strict rules that force indebted developers to reduce leverage, as well as measures aimed at preventing a bubble in home prices. The result is refinancing debt is becoming increasingly difficult for the sector, with junk-related or unrated real estate firms struggling to find buyers for their notes. At the same time, sales of homes are plunging, Major developers recorded a 30% drop in sales in September from a year earlier, according to the analysts at Jefferies, citing China Real Estate information Corp data.

I don’t see many analysts saying that the Chinese central government will simply step in and guarantee all Evergrande’s debt and just bail it out. On the contrary I’d see the Chinese government letting Evergrande fall as a sign that it trusts its own economy to correct itself. I think it will seek to protect the apartment investors themselves (if anything) and let the company itself just fall.

But as the Chinese government has shown, the skill to intervention is in timing. The Reserve Bank of Australia came out with a new Financial Stability Review with specific warnings on this: “If they act too quickly in addressing these vulnerabilities, confidence in the implicit guarantees that underpin much of China’s financial system could collapse, which would lead to financial distress.” That is a very strong warning in RBA language.

The Chinese government has certainly intervened in other big companies recently, one of which was on the day before Ant Group was due to launch. Timing! China did remarkably better out of the 2008-9 Global Financial Crisis than the United States or the European Union, through massive monetary and fiscal stimulus. The Chinese government also responded strongly to the stockmarket meltdown of 2015. So it’s hard to critique their policy skill if one can’t always figure out why they step in in such an apparently erratic way and make it so hard for investors to trust the system to abide by clear rules (Having said that, state regulation of the daily time young people can spend on video games is simply beyond fascist. The entire National People’s Congress should have to do compulsory babysitting through school holidays and see how they really feel on that policy).

Since brutally crashing Ant Group’s party in November last year, it has introduced a slew of regulations around the funding of Chinese tech companies.

One can certainly imagine that China will place a much more stringent set of funding regulations around property developers after Evergrande.

I shudder think what would happen in New Zealand if our government made a similar frontal assault on the debt of developers, rather than just choking off debt availability and decreasing its tax break loopholes. New Zealand’s boom in development is the price we are paying for getting the market to do the responses to the crisis in housing availability.

For Chinese real estate developers, the old idea of implicit guarantees of debt or equity have disappeared. You wouldn’t see the equivalent of a South Canterbury Finance guarantee like we did. It does appear to be a really important step in that China is allowing market discipline to sort out a financial system that had been jacked on corruption. But fostering that will require government action in areas other than debt. Effective discipline requires not just the elimination of implicit state guarantees but also measures to improve corporate governance, enhance transparency and accounting standards, and impose more stringent auditing requirements. Otherwise you just get more investors building companies that they think are just too big to fail, so they get away with anything.

To me Beijing is showing that it is serious about how it lets real estate developers fall, and in general how domestic resources are allocated well beyond its reserve command-and-control powers,. It is regulating harder and bailing out less, which will in time reduce uncertainties for all investors in China foreign and domestic. That will make real estate price collapse flowing out to New Zealand less likely.

17 comments on “China and Real Estate Developers ”

  1. Thought a billionaire from Hong Kong had stepped in to save Evergrande

  2. roblogic 2

    "That will make real estate price collapse flowing out to New Zealand less likely."

    That's a shame. We need a correction. The government has taken steps to curb the flow of dirty money from China, but there are still huge loopholes in our regulations that we can drive a truck through

  3. Patricia Bremner 3

    New Zealand is a tiny economy in a sea of sharks. We do well even though Douglas and Key had plenty of time to set the stage for the billionaires club. The people who assist rorts should be liable.
    Ordinary people do not afford the insurance, lawyers or off shore shell companies to dodge their taxes or responsibilities. We often talk of the black economy, the hidden economy of the rich is huge and is gradually being lit up.

  4. Subliminal 4

    Its never good popping a bubble but worse to leave it to grow to become a systemic threat. We are certainly aware in NZ of all the negative impacts from the finacialisation of land and housing. Not many countries have the total control of markets and banking that China has. They are more likely to recognise inequalities and move to curtail any burgeoning power of the billionaire class before capture and control of the decision making levers. The CCP sees some benefits to moving now against Evergrande while assets are still greater than debt and homebuyers can still be rescued. From the Asia Times

    The Evergrande crisis will accomplish a set of objectives, senior Chinese officials told Asia Times.

    First, it will stop the growth of dangerous leverage in the property sector, an objective that Chinese regulators signaled in 2020 with “red lines” for developer leverage and curbs on lending to the property sector. “It’s dangerous to pop a bubble,” one official said, “but even more dangerous not to.”

    Second, it will bring down home prices, in keeping with the government’s theme of “common prosperity” and more equitable distribution of rewards. Soaring home prices, particularly in coastal cities and Beijing, have put home ownership outside the reach of lower-income Chinese.

    Third, it will suppress inflation by reducing speculative building and demand for iron, copper, cement and other raw materials.

    Fourth, it will help drain the political swamp in Chinese local governments, whose finances have depended on property sales. The cozy relationship between local officials and property developers encourages corruption and inhibits the central government’s efforts to modernize the tax system. “The real estate bubble arose through corruption,” one official commented.

    Fifth – and most important – it will shift capital allocation toward high-productivity industries like manufacturing and away from construction, an inherently low-productivity occupation.

    This fifth area is where economies like NZ struggle. Why invest in the productive sector when the windfalls from speculative asset inflation are so easy and require so little labour? We can only go so far while an ever increasing financial class is motivated to do nothing while their nett worth balloons.

    It may even be that the suppression of inflation in China will translate around the world. Already shipping prices are falling away from their highs. Whether this is the result of slowing raw materials into China I don't know.

    But probably the most important aspect is the expected reduction in house prices. In purely economic terms, the inflation of land and house prices is an extraction of money upwards to the super rich. Such accumulations always negatively affect the health of the economy. Workers must either be abandoned to the increased costs or paid more, Either way it' a viscious downward spiral on the productive sector and a powerful disincentive to make any investments in this essential part of the economy.

    It is also a great point to note the link between the real estate sector, developers, and corruption of local officials. Donald Trump and his dad spring to mind.

    • Ad 4.1

      Our government has actively funded the low-innovation industries like construction because we need housing and upgraded infrastructure.

      The investment form most likely to persuade New Zealanders to move out of housing is Kiwisaver, but that is an exceedingly delayed gratification. While each property keeps delivering me more than my salary per year, even on 100% Growth it is very hard to make a rational case to shift.

      • Subliminal 4.1.1

        I certainly don't pretend that this is an easy nut to crack. On the one hand we dont have enough affordable housing and on the other is house price speculation. So long as we believe in the "invisible hand" of the market we will be left with these contradictions. If Robertson is unable to talk to Orr at the Reserve Bank without outcries of Independence! how do we ever get fiscal and monetary policy aligned? At present when the economy slows the RB floods the banking sector with money to pump up assets. Again, this is just a direct transfer of wealth up to the super rich. You have to own more than one house to benefit. If you own ten then all the better. We laugh at the CCP planned economy but the implication of this laughter is a belief in the invisible hand. And just when we thought we had escaped the clutches of religion.

        • Ad 4.1.1.1

          I'm on the Webb's auction live right now, and I'd say the bidding indicates there's a bit more capital going into non-land property. Seen it recently at International Art Centre and Art and Object. Hugely intense.

        • Dean Reynolds 4.1.1.2

          Subliminal, we get fiscal & monetary policy aligned by amending the Reserve Bank Act to enforce the original policy that the RBNZ is under the control of the government of the day & its role is to carry out the government's monetary policy. The 'independance' of the RBNZ was another act of Douglas stupidity.

          Regarding the RBNZ flooding the banking sector with money, this is simply remedied – Treasury bonds are bought by the RBNZ & the government puts their extra funding straight into the real economy by spending on infrastructure, Covid subsidies, etc. The trading banks are simply by- passed.

          • Subliminal 4.1.1.2.1

            Yes. Thats definitely a very productive avenue to explore but I can't imagine Grant Robertson going down that road. I believe that Orr offered him money that bypassed the bond holders, effectively doing what you suggest but he recoiled in horror so the money travelled the usual route, clipped with the additional interest charges, straight into asset inflation. Not sure how long it takes to trash TINA but if the Old Testament is anything to go by I wouldn't be holding my breath.

    • Maurice 4.2

      "Fifth – and most important – it will shift capital allocation toward high-productivity industries like manufacturing and away from construction, an inherently low-productivity occupation."

      Except China has an energy deficit which is presently threatening periodic shutdown of manufacturing … more coal to the rescue?

      https://www.bbc.com/news/business-58839894

      Beijing has reportedly ordered China’s coal mines to boost output as an energy shortage across the country has seen millions of homes and businesses hit by power cuts in recent weeks.

      • Subliminal 4.2.1

        This is not a problem just for China. You may or may not have noticed a similar problem in Europe. If climate change is accepted as a thing then it also needs to be accepted that the transition will not be smooth. It is quite difficult to replace the portability and power of fossil fuels but if we wait for a perfect transition it may be too late. Better to make some mistakes and take the lessons. China is committed to Carbon Nuetral by 2060

  5. RedLogix 5

    A very good OP Advantage – and most of the points you make are very applicable beyond the borders of the PRC. But that said there are two further aspects peculiar to the PRC's position.

    One is the sheer scale of the debt – and much of it in it's business sector. On the numbers I have seen, the current Chinese debt dwarfs by a factor of several anything comparable in the world or possibly history. For this reason alone it was always going to end badly, no economy has entered this space and recovered without pain.

    The second more pernicious reason is political purpose this debt has served. For most of the past 40 years capital in China has served one primary purpose – increasing employment. The Chinese business sector did not have to be profitable, it just had to employ people – and as long as it did there was always more debt available to cover the losses.

    Over the past ten years the CCP has made, under pressure from the US and others, several attempts to release this trap and all have ended with either massive capital flight or instability. This time the capital flight problem has been clamped down on, so the headline impact is collapses like Ever Grande. The CCP's political calculus is the hurt will fall on a smallish sliver of uber-wealthy coastal elites, and the large bulk of the still relatively poor inland population will remain loyal. Nonetheless it's hard to see how their middle class, who like NZ, have had no other investment vehicle other than real-estate – can avoid having much of it's savings wiped out.

    The outlook is complicated by the simple fact that the only component of the Chinese economy that is doing well is their export sector – but this too is being deeply compromised by three concurrent factors. One is that imposing market disciplines on a run-away real estate market is one thing -they had a gross excess of housing stock anyhow- doing the same to their manufacturing sector is quite another. Secondly a largely self-inflicted energy crisis is having an immediate impact across much of the sector. And finally their hectoring diplomatic stance of the past three years has more or less pissed off all their customer base, who are actively looking for ways to escape entanglement with a partner now widely regarded as unreliable to say the least.

    To a very large extent the CCP has obtained the loyalty of the mass of Chinese people on the basis that it was pulling them out of poverty – regardless of how it was being achieved. If and when this contract falls over we will likely see the CCP resort to increasingly desperate measures to remain in power. That desperation will be measured in both a deeper authoritarianism domestically, and more opaque behaviour globally.

    • Ad 5.1

      I didn't go into the risks upon international debt markets from Chinese exposure because it's so complicated by the US debt ceiling debate, and it got too hard for my brain to figure all that correlated risk together. Jamie Dimon is certainly preparing for US debt ceiling breach. I'm open to being pointed to good analysis of global debt market risk increases.

  6. Adrian 6

    My cousin told me a few years before the GFC that most difficult job he ever had working for the IMF was telling China that it could not expect to have the renimbi as a competitor to the USD while China had such a low value GDP as there was not enough liquidity to back it. It was their desire to replace the USD as the world trading currency and the rejection turbocharged the already huge infrastructure boom .

    Hes a Kiwi living in Washington and comes from a very small SI village and a local rural high school. For about 20 years he was one of the most powerful men in the world but you would never know it on meeting him, just a typical self-effacing Kiwi.

  7. Tricledrown 7

    China is playing tough on all other fronts it will stop any collapse by printing or nationalising most likely both.

    • Maurice 7.1

      Already indicated that local bond holders would be paid interest but foreign ones would not in the Everglade saga

  8. Castro 8

    If we nationalised all the properties owned by offshore Han and onshore Han colonists, it'd make a serious dent in freeing up housing supply in No Zealand. Don't tell Mike Smith… he's a fan of the Len Brown special.

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