China sets the tone on real estate, local government support

A Chinese flag flutters on top of the Great Hall of the People ahead of the opening ceremony of the Belt and Road Forum (BRF), to mark 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative, in Beijing, China October 18, 2023.

Edgar Su | Reuters

BEIJING — China signaled support for property developers and resolving local government debt problems in a high-level financial meeting that ended Tuesday, according to a state media readout.

Such twice-a-decade financial work conferences tend to set long-term policy directions, which then pave the way for more detailed moves.

“Policymakers emphasized that private and state-owned property developers would be treated equally and their reasonable funding demands would be satisfied,” Goldman Sachs’ Maggie Wei and a team said in a report published Wednesday.

“Policymakers would establish long-term effective mechanism to resolve local government debt and ‘optimize the structure of central and local government debt,'” the report said.

Beijing began cracking down on property developers’ high reliance on debt for growth in 2020. The massive real estate sector has slumped amid developer defaults and falling home sales.

In recent months Chinese authorities have eased restrictions on home purchases and sought to support developers in finishing construction of apartments, which are typically sold ahead of completion.

But Beijing has stopped short of an outright bailout for a sector that’s widely expected to shrink from its roughly one-quarter share of China’s economy.

“Regarding property, they vowed to meet the reasonable financing needs from developers. It’s noteworthy that the conference didn’t mention the mantra ‘housing is for living, not for speculation,'” Larry Hu, chief China economist at Macquarie, and a team said in a note published Tuesday.

The Hang Seng Property Development and Management Index was up mildly in Wednesday morning trade.

The property market is closely intertwined with local government finances, which have also struggled after paying for many Covid-related measures.

The government meeting held Monday and Tuesday also reflected the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s increased oversight of finance. Delayed by more than a year, the latest meeting was called the “central” financial work conference — instead of “national” as it was called in 2017.

“This time around, the focus is to keep regulatory pressure to prevent the emergence of new risks, instead of launching another de-risking campaign,” the Macquarie analysts said.

They pointed out the words “regulation” and “risk” were mentioned fewer times in this year’s readout, versus in 2017.

Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a high-level speech at the conference about financial development, the state media readout said, noting Premier Li Qiang made more specific arrangements for financial work.

Vice Premier He Lifeng gave a closing speech, the readout said.

He is now also director of the office of the Central Commission for Financial and Economic Affairs, according to state media on Sunday. Liu He, formerly China’s top trade negotiator, previously held that role.

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