China’s land market continued to cool in August as developers remained cautious over the outlook for the nation’s property sector.
The average land auction premium over starting bidding prices in 40 major Chinese cities monitored by E-house China R&D Institute fell to 17.3 per cent – its lowest level since June 2015, during the last property downturn, and compared with 38.2 per cent a year ago.
Average land sale prices also dipped by 2.9 per cent from July to 4,472 yuan (US$654) per square metre, the fifth straight month-on-month decline.
Separately, another report by China Index Academy, which monitors a wider pool of 300 Chinese cities, found the average premium falling sharper to 9 per cent from 30 per cent a year ago, while average prices declining 9.8 per cent over July to 2,598 yuan per square metre.
“The continuous fall in premiums [being paid] is mainly attributed to high land prices set by local governments. In many places stringent conditions are attached to sales that have slashed saleable areas,” said E-house.
“On the other hand developers remained subject to a home price cap and the prospect of tighter profitability, ebbing their interest [in buying].”
Greater disparity is also starting to appear across different parts of the country.
Luoyang, a central Hunan province city in central China, registered the biggest premium of 104 per cent, while in Shenzhen and Qingdao where auction prices are controlled, the premium was rooted at zero.
In Shanghai all 16 parcels sold in August were also sold at a zero premium, except one bought at a marginal 0.1 per cent.
But in nearby Nanjing land sale prices more than quadrupled from July.
Industry watchers said the ongoing property curbs are now biting hard into developers’ appetite for land – curbs that show no sign of easing.
The chief drivers of robust, in some cases spectacular, earnings by Chinese developers – cheap land and rising selling prices – are effectively disappearing, they say, as plots become increasingly expensive while homes being built on them face price caps.
A number of mega-developers have already said in their interim results statements they will be much more prudent in their land acquisitions.
Yan Jianguo, chairman of China Overseas Land and Investment, for instance, said his team would “rather miss a plot instead of investing in a wrong plot”.
Xia Haijun, CEO of China Evergrande Group said the property giant would avoid third and fourth-tier cities while focusing on first, second-tier cities and their surrounding areas.
While Sun Hongbin, chairman of fellow heavyweight Sunac China Holdings, put it more bluntly: “Developers are now anxious for two primary reasons: their strong moves on lower-tier cities, is now cooling quickly now; and plots acquired in the past two to three years would not have made a profit if sold at capped prices,” he said at its result briefing last week.
He said Sunac, however, is not concerned by the conditions as it bought much of its land bank land at large discounted prices.
It has rarely bought plots through public auction since the end of 2016, and will prioritise financial prudency from now on, he added.