[HONG KONG] China's stronger-than-seasonal property sales in December point to a recovery in market sentiment thanks to looser housing and monetary policy, with the upbeat momentum expected to swing into 2015, analysts said.
But with oversupply still looming large, any recovery - especially in home prices - is likely to be slow, tempering hopes that housing could provide a badly needed boost to the Chinese economy as it struggles to overcome the slowest growth since the global financial crisis.
"December sales figures were a positive surprise because they were better than the September and October figures which were traditionally the golden and silver month," Macquarie analyst David Ng said. "They're stimulated by loosening policies." Mr Ng said however that sales would see slow, healthy growth rather than a big rebound.
China's top listed residential developer China Vanke reported a 129 per cent surge in sales in the last month of 2014 from a year earlier, while sales over the same period for mid-sized Country Garden leapt 167 per cent.
Sixty percent of China's major cities recorded a rise in sales volume in December, according to housing data researcher CRIC, with first-tier cities rising the most, up more than 15 per cent from November and over 45 per cent from a year earlier.
China has put in place a series of stimulus measures including interest rate cuts to spur home buying demand and market liquidity since the third quarter.
Betting on even looser policy to come, investors have been snapping up property shares, pushing the property sub-index in Shanghai to its highest since February 2008.
But housing supply remains excessive despite the pick-up in sales, with only two major cities out of 23 seeing a decline in inventory at the end of December, CRIC data showed. "Inventory is high. We can't raise prices until after the market digests them, " said a chief executive officer of a developer based in southern Guangdong province. "The sales went up but prices didn't; it won't be easy for us to raise prices." China's new home prices fell for the 11th consecutive month in November by an annual 3.7 per cent, the biggest drop since 2011. Property sales hit 132.2 million square metres, the highest level in 11 months, though still down 11 per cent from a year earlier.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said in a report last month it expects home prices in first and second-tier cities to continue to fall in 2015 on high inventory, while prices in third and fourth-tier cities would stabilise.
In terms of full-year results, a breakdown of sales figures also underscores the increasing polarisation between large and small players, leading to quicker consolidation. CASS forecasts that half of the developers will "vanish".
China has an estimated 50,000 developers although only 80 account for close to 40 per cent of market share.
The largest companies tend to grow faster. Seven developers with over 100 billion yuan in sales, including Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties and Evergrande Real Estate , on average sold 24 per cent more in 2014, while those with 30-100 billion sales grew at 14.6 per cent, according to housing researcher China Index Academy.
Unlisted state-backed Greenland Group said its 2014 contracted sales jumped 50 per cent from a year earlier to 240.8 billion yuan, topping China Vanke for the first time.