Back in March, we explained why the “fate of the world economy is in the hands of China’s housing bubble.” The answer was simple: for the Chinese population, and growing middle class, to keep spending vibrant and borrowing elevated, it had to feel comfortable and confident that its wealth will keep rising. However, unlike the US where the stock market is the ultimate barometer of the confidence boosting “wealth effect”, in China it has always been about housing: three quarters of Chinese household assets are parked in real estate, compared to only 28% in the US with the remainder invested financial assets.
Beijing knows this, of course, which is why China periodically and consistently reflates its housing bubble, hoping that the popping of the bubble, which happened in late 2011 and again in 2014, will be a controlled, “smooth landing” process.
The other reason why China is so eager to keep its housing sector inflated – and risk bursting bubbles – is that as shown in the chart below, in 2016 the rise of property prices boosted household wealth in 37 tier 1 and tier 2 cities by RMB24 trillion, almost twice the total local disposable income of RMB12.9 trillion. For any Fed readers out there, that’s how you create a wealth effect, fake as it may be.
Unfortunately for China, whose record credit creation in 2017, and certainly in the months leading up to the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress which started last week, has been the primary catalyst for the “global coordinated growth”, the good times are now again over, and according to the latest real estate data released last week, property sales in China dropped for the first time since March 2015, or more than two-and-half years, in September and housing starts slowed sharply reinforcing concerns that robust growth in the world’s second-largest economy is starting to cool.
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