Monday, January 09, 2006

Housing Boom Goes Bust In Shanghai

But I bet it can't happen here. From the LA Times:

SHANGHAI — American homeowners wondering what follows a housing bubble can look to China's largest city.

Once one of the hottest markets in the world, sales of homes have virtually halted in some areas of Shanghai, prompting developers to slash prices and real estate brokerages to shutter thousands of offices.

For the first time, homeowners here are learning what it means to have an upside-down mortgage — when the value of a home falls below the amount of debt on the property. Recent home buyers are suing to get their money back. Banks are fretting about a wave of default loans.

"The entire industry is scaling back," said Mu Wijie, a regional manager at Century 21 China, who estimated that 3,000 brokerage offices had closed since spring. Real estate agents, whose phones wouldn't stop ringing a year ago, say their incomes have plunged by two-thirds.

Shanghai's housing slump is only going to worsen and imperil a significant part of the Chinese economy, says Andy Xie, Morgan Stanley's chief Asia economist in Hong Kong.

Although the city's 20 million residents represent less than 2% of China's population of 1.3 billion, Xie says, Shanghai accounts for an astounding 20% of the country's property value. About 1 million homes in Shanghai alone — about half the number of housing starts for the entire United States in 2004 — are under construction.

"They'll remain empty for years," Xie said, adding that a jolting comedown also was in store for other Chinese cities with building booms — including Beijing, Chongqing and Chengdu — though other analysts say the problem is largely confined to Shanghai.

Shanghai's housing bust comes after a doubling of prices in the previous three years, a run-up fueled by massive speculation. With China's economy booming and Shanghai at the center of worldwide attention, investors from Hong Kong, Taiwan and elsewhere were buying as fast as buildings were going up. At least 30% to 40% of homes sold were bought by speculators, says Zhang Zhijie, a real estate analyst at Academy, a research group in Shanghai.

"Ordinary people had no option but to follow the trend," Zhang said. "Worrying that prices would be even more unaffordable tomorrow, many of them borrowed from relatives and banks to buy as soon as possible."

The Shanghai government only pushed the market higher, he added. "Many of the officials said Shanghai's property market was healthy and wouldn't drop before the World Expo" in 2010.


Few analysts are betting on a quick turnaround. Yin Zhongli, an economist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, says a housing crash takes time to clean up. He worries that the financial sector will be crippled by the real estate fallout. Last year, he said, 76% of all bank loans in Shanghai were in real estate.

"Now is the time to swallow a bitter pill," Yin said.

Obviously the conditions are vastly different in China, but there sure are parallels to the United States real eastate market too.

I heard on CNN this morning that George Soros thinks a recession is coming in 2007, in part due to the falling housing market and its ancillary businesses.

You have to wonder if upside mortgages are going to be appearing here in America sometime soon.

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