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China homebuilder Sunac says acquisition spree to continue

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Sunac China Holdings Ltd, which ranks among China's most active real estate buyers this year, is in talks to acquire more land from other developers because prices at government auctions have risen to "absurd" levels, chairman Sun Hongbin said.

[BEIJING] Sunac China Holdings Ltd, which ranks among China's most active real estate buyers this year, is in talks to acquire more land from other developers because prices at government auctions have risen to "absurd" levels, chairman Sun Hongbin said.

"We're in talks on many, many projects, big and small," in cities including Beijing and Shanghai, Mr Sun said in an interview in Beijing. "The prices are all fairly reasonable" compared to open auctions where many land parcels have been sold at prices higher than completed homes, he said.

Sunac is among the 10 Chinese developers with the most acquisitions this year, with five disclosed deals totaling almost US$600 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Evergrande Real Estate Group Ltd is the biggest acquirer with US$5.8 billion in four deals. Sunac would carefully manage its cash flows, which remain "very safe," Mr Sun said.

Fervent land buying that started in 2014 in China's biggest cities has spilled over to smaller ones as the nation's housing market recovered amid policy easing and stimulus.

The average price of residential land sold in 29 second-tier cities, many of them provincial capitals like Nanjing, jumped 77 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to SouFun Holdings Ltd.

"While home prices in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Suzhou are not yet a bubble, there's already a bubble in their land prices," Mr Sun said.

"If developers want to make money based on those land prices, home prices will have to go much, much higher."

Sunac, based in the northern city of Tianjin and long focused on the biggest cities, has since last year entered more second-tier cities like Nanjing, Zhengzhou and Taiyuan as the company searches for reasonably priced slots to replenish its land bank.

The company spent about 55 billion yuan (S$11.6 billion) acquiring 46 projects in the 15 months to March, according to SWS Research Co.

It remains unclear when the acquisitions can start to boost the company's gross margin, which fell about 5 percentage points last year, SWS analyst Kris Li wrote in a report in March.

The rapid increases in land prices in Suzhou, a city 30 minutes from Shanghai by high-speed train, have made it "risky" for aggressive bidders like Modern Land China Co, as policy may change when the projects become ready for sale, Mizuho Securities Co's Hong Kong-based analyst Alan Jin wrote in a report April 12.

The city raised 25.1 billion yuan in two days, on April 7 and April 8, auctioning 13 land parcels, with many of the transactions setting records in respective neighborhoods, Mr Jin wrote. Local authorities took steps in March to cap price gains.

In Beijing, the sales momentum is continuing. Sunac's luxury project One Sino Park, built on a prime site bought in 2013 for a record price at auction, is selling for an average of about 170,000 yuan a square metre, making it one of the most expensive residential projects in China, according to Lou Yanqing, deputy general manager of Sunac's Beijing operations.

The company sold eight of 52 apartments it offered in the 227-unit development in the first week of May when sales started, fetching a combined 500 million yuan in contract sales, she said.

Most buyers were successful entrepreneurs born in the 1970s or 1980s, she added.

Home prices rose in 65 of the 70 Chinese cities tracked by the government in April, the most in more than two years, official data released on Wednesday show.

Gains in second-tier cities surpassed advances in larger hubs, with prices in the Anhui province city of Hefei jumping 5.7 per cent from March.

BLOOMBERG