[HONG KONG] Executives at nearly a dozen listed Chinese developers say they will ramp up investment in property this year thanks to Beijing's interest rate cuts, a vote of confidence from a sector accounting for 15 per cent of economic growth.
China's real estate investment growth slipped in the first quarter to its lowest rate since 2009 as developers focused on clearing excess inventory, but rare comments from senior executives offer hope of a near-term pick-up in home sales and a knock-on boost for about 40 related business sectors.
Zhang Peng, president of Beijing-based Modern Land China Co, welcomed the "positive signals to real estate companies" in Sunday's interest rate cut, China's third in six months.
"The central bank is actively loosening monetary policy. This will release more lending quotas from financial institutions and lower funding costs," he said.
Executives at nine developers told Reuters they were confident the latest rate cut would speed up investment, while three others said a decision on whether to ramp up spending depended on market sales.
Any pick-up in building by developers would be a boon to raw materials industries inside and outside China, which have been hit hard by the slowdown in the country's once booming property market.
Of the 12 listed developers surveyed by Reuters, only China Resources Land, Country Garden and Yuzhou Properties agreed to be named, while the rest declined as they were not authorised to speak to the media. Modern Land China did not complete the survey.
Eight of the developers said they were optimistic that the rate cut would spur home purchases, while two more, including Yuzhou Properties, were "very optimistic". Country Garden was"cautiously optimistic".
"The view of the industry is changing because prices in many cities have bottomed and started to rise," said a chief financial officer of one of the property companies based in eastern China. "The impact is multifaceted. Rate cuts help the whole market sentiment, and a bullish stock market also makes homebuyers more upbeat about the housing market."
MORE RATE CUTS
State-backed China Resources Land, which said it was optimistic the rate cut would accelerate its investment and boost home sales, plans to raise up to US$1.3 billion in a Hong Kong share offer, Thomson Reuters publication IFR reported on Tuesday, taking advantage of a near doubling in its stock price in the past 12 months to gain funds for new projects.
A chief executive officer of another state-owned developer, who was neutral on whether the rate cut would spur home buying, said it depended on whether banks reflect the cut in their mortgage rates.
"Rate cuts are becoming the norm; two to three more cuts are expected this year. Some home buyers may prefer to wait a bit longer to see whether the market has really bottomed or not,"said the executive.
All the developers Reuters spoke to are focused on China's upper-tier cities, where there is less excess supply.
As sales and prices are much less robust in the lower-tier cities, and access to funds remains limited for small and medium-sized developers, which account for the bulk of the market, this year is still unlikely to see an overall rise in property investment growth.
Nomura analyst Jeffrey Gao forecast 5 per cent growth in property investment for 2015, down from 10.5 per cent in 2014.
Data on Wednesday is expected to show China's real estate investment growth continued to slow in the first four months of this year. Home sales data is also due on Wednesday.