Like everything else, there are two sides to this supposed upside of a buoyant property market in several Asian countries. Take Honk Kong, for instance. A record land auction last week meant the sector was in the eye of policy makers and investors. The affordability quotient is getting a whole new meaning altogether as property prices go up the roof. And as property owners are laughing their way to the bank, there are those who are leaving town looking for affordable lodging elsewhere.
According to CSLA Securities, this is an Asian-reflation story and it is the continent that will be the main beneficiary of the US Federal Reserve's quantitative easing and not the US consumer, for whom it is actually targeted, reports MarketWatch.
And although this might mean good tidings for the investors, it is not something the governments are welcoming. Why, only a few weeks ago, the Hong Kong government put down new property market curb laws but they were of little effect. In Singapore, government increased the holding period for a seller's stamp-duty tax from one to three years and also tightened the loan-to-deposits required.
Also, last week's $165 million auction was one-third higher than expected, which also showed that property activity is also accelerating. Such activity is also reminding one of what happened in 1997, when the property bubble burst. The government had introduced property measures but it was too little, too late. With August homes sales leaping 33 per cent, the government this time, too, is under pressure to lay down strict rules. One wonders if history is repeating itself.
It looks like it is, since Hong Kong property prices have risen up to 45 per cent, since the beginning of 2009 and even to 1997 in some cases. However, a report by Nomura analysts is asking people to put fears to rest since the market doesn't have two ingredients vital for a bubble burst - leverage and speculative demand. At the same time, the report forecasts yet another 20 per cent increase in prices by the end of next year. The other thing that might work in favor is the public demand for affordable housing.
The Nomura report stats there are two issues responsible for Hong Kong's hyper property prices, a supply-demand imbalance and super-low interest rates. But then there are things government can do little about.
The super-low interest rates come from the fact that Hong Kong's currency is pegged to the US dollar and the Fed sets local interest rates. The local authorities have also been incapable of curbing the new Hibor-based mortgages, which can be below 1 per cent due to excess liquidity in Hong Kong. As for the demand/supply imbalance, more land is on the market, but a new build cycle of four years is needed for new apartments to take shape. Yes, demand should be targeted by restricting those who are able to buy. At the same time, there have been stories in local newspapers about mainland Chinese buyers, who have accounted for 35 per cent new properties that were sold this year.
As reported in MarketWatch, these mainland buyers have not only pushed prices to record highs but also have a habit of leaving flats empty, which results in reducing rental supply. And one can't outright ban the mainland buyers since there is a lot Hong Kong depends on them for trade.
One way out would be to provide incentives so that foreign buying is not at the expense of local residents losing out on the opportunity.
Consider the case of Switzerland, where real-estate buying is restricted. However, non-residents can invest in low-rental apartment blocks, where rents are below market rates or in tourists areas decided by the government.
According to Nomura analysts, property prices in Hong Kong are within the mid range of affordability and prime and Hibor mortgages are between 1 and 2 percent. But there is also a 30 percent cash down payment, which increased the affordability barrier. Thus, the property markets are asking the buyers to deposit equal to three-four times annual household income. This is an amount many banks in the Western markets would think twice before lending for the whole mortgage. This, while such amount of deposits may protect banks from market correction, it will not help individuals investing into a family home. At the same time, a lot will depend on the upcoming policy measures, and the government must decide how to make Hong Kong a place where people can live as well as invest in.