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Chinese property firms weigh cutting prices after Evergrande's deep discounts

This comes amid sluggish home price recovery, ebbing appetite for speculation

Hong Kong

COUNTRY Garden, China's top property developer, and smaller real estate firms are weighing offering bigger discounts on home buys after rival Evergrande unveiled its steepest ever discount this week, analysts and a source said.

Evergrande, China's second-biggest property developer, announced a nationwide 30 per cent discount on all of its properties until the end of the week-long holidays in early October, a period that is traditionally China's peak home-buying season.

The move is aimed at juicing sales and cash flow at China's most indebted developer at a time when its profits have weakened.

Steeper discounts from developers come against the backdrop of a sluggish recovery in home prices in smaller cities and ebbing appetite for property market speculation outside major cities due to uncertain economic conditions.

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A Country Garden source said the company is planning to launch a campaign in response to Evergrande's price cut, but the rate of discount may be lower. The person, who asked not to be named because the plans are yet to be finalised, added that it is not unusual for the company to introduce promotions in September and October.

The developer and Evergrande have similar project footprints in the country, focusing on Tier-3 and 4 cities and peripheral locations in bigger cities.

Other major developers told Reuters that they will not offer across-the-board or steep discounts to compete with Evergrande because their projects are in very different locations and the bigger cities are selling well.

Data of 18 major cities tracked by real-estate researcher CREIS shows that home transactions in August rose 3.4 per cent from July, and

26.7 per cent from a year ago.

"Developers will face pressure; they're watching closely, but it'll be mostly those who have projects next to Evergrande's only. Because a 30 per cent discount basically wipes out all the profits," said Andy Lee, South China chief executive officer of realtor Centaline. "It's mostly for driving sales volume."

Previous discounts have come at a cost to Evergrande's margins. Last week, it posted a 37 per cent slump in first-half core profit, despite a 24 per cent increase in sales. Its total borrowings climbed 2.7 per cent during the period to 835.5 billion yuan (S$167.1 billion). The company has targeted sales of 800 billion yuan in 2020.

Matthew Chow, a director at rating agency S&P Global, said Evergrande's deep discount offer is likely to be "company specific" because it has short-term debt obligations coming due. "Evergrande relies a lot on its cash generation to tackle all the upcoming obligations; sales is obviously one of Evergrande's key cash inflow," he said. REUTERS

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