There has been much chatter in recent week’s regarding China’s potential bubble economy. As we now know, the Chinese government poured in more stimulus per GDP than the United States and with their economy rebounding substantially faster it looks like they are having trouble containing the red hot growth in the broad economy and in asset prices. This has been nowhere more apparent than it is in Chinese real estate where there is now enough commercial real estate to provide a 5X5 cubicle for every man, woman and child in China.
China International Business recently sat down to interview Zhang Xin, CEO of SOHO China, Beijing’s largest commercial property developer. Her comments are startling to say the least and are all too reminiscent of the environment we saw here in the United States in 2006 & 2007 where anyone and everyone wanted a piece of the real estate market – except for some of the largest developers like Sam Zell who were selling.
To say that a collapse in Chinese real estate prices would be devastating is an understatement. A slowdown and asset collapse in China would be potentially catastrophic for the global economy which has become largely dependent on China during this weak recovery. Attached are a few highlights from the interview:
What is your overall approach to the real estate market today?
Basically – other than Qianmen [Street] in Beijing, which is the only project we decided to hold long term, our strategy for today is to sell everything we have. The real estate business should really be looking at rental yield; build a building and then lease it out with the rent giving a decent return. But, because of where China is with asset bubbles, people want to buy the assets regardless of whether they can be leased out or not. People just want to hold [property], even if it is empty.
Prices are too high, rent is too low, so if you hold property in order to get yield you are likely to get very little. For us it makes no sense to hold property, so our strategy is to sell everything. We see ourselves very much as a manufacturer. We buy land, we build, and then we sell. And the asset bubble has compelled us to be even more of a manufacturer.
When do you think the bubble will burst?
I don’t know. We don’t really have a view on when it will end; [but] we do have a view that this is a bubble. Real estate is very much driven by government policy. This year we have RMB 4 trillion through the stimulus package, another RMB 6 trillion from municipality bonds, another RMB 10 trillion from bank loans: We have RMB 20 trillion in the system and it all finds its way to real estate. If the government next year decides to continue the relaxed monetary policy the market will continue like this, regardless of whether this is a wasteful investment or not – people will still buy and we will still be building and selling.
These buildings are not fully occupied and people should be worried about it. I am sure the government is worried about it, but what do you do, they want the stimulus and if you want to create jobs then this is a by-product. There are a lot of dilemmas in this area – it is not a black and white easy decision.
What is your time period for selling properties?
As soon as possible. We came in [for the Exchange] when it was 30% full and now it’s selling out very quickly. I think in the next few months it is all going to be sold out. People want to buy. It has already reached 50% occupancy.
[Beijing's] CBD has 35% vacancy but our buildings are all over 95% occupied because we push all these Chinese companies to come in. [Normally] if you go to Guomao as a small Chinese company there is no chance they will lease it to you, they won’t even talk to you.
Source: China International Business