HONG KONG - Property launches in China are set to surge in the latter half of the year with developers sticking to their schedules despite mounting inventories, spelling double trouble for a market hammered by months of falling prices.
Prices started to decline in March as the slowing economy hit demand, inventories ballooned and developers began offering discounts. The current slump was confirmed by official data only around the middle of the year, way after developers had already committed themselves to completing projects for 2014.
Developers also have little choice but to heap even more supply in a bloated market due to regulations that stop them from sitting on undeveloped land. Those that fail to break ground on new projects a year after purchasing land will face fines, while those that wait more than two years could have their land confiscated.
The rush to expedite projects will worsen chronic oversupply that analysts warn may take years to clear. Unsold properties will also have broader implications - the sector accounts for over 15 percent of the economy and its fortunes are tied to other industries such as concrete and steel.
Earlier this month, Kaisa Group and China Merchants Land confirmed that they planned to launch around 70 percent of their 2014 projects in the second half. Country Garden said it aimed to meet 60 percent of its sales target during the period.
Price cuts and promotions are the most common methods that developers use to clear inventory. But tight mortgage credit lines from banks and discrepancies in price expectations between developers and home buyers are not helping, analysts say.
"Buyers' attitude has changed. They feel they can wait," said CIFI Holdings Chief Financial Officer Albert Yau.
China's once white-hot housing market is slowing this year, weighed by the cooling economy and the government's five-year-long campaign to curb price rises. New home prices fell in July for a third consecutive month, with declines spreading to a record number of big cities including Beijing.
So far, only a handful of small developers such as China Overseas Grand Oceans and Jingrui Holding have issued profit warnings. Analysts see little prospect for improvement in the short term.
"The outlook for the next three to five years is not favourable," said Rosealea Yao, a Beijing-based analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics. "If sales are not recovering and inventory is not coming down fast enough, companies will have no choice but to cut their new starts construction."
Some developers such as Longfor, Greentown China and Fantasia Holdings have said they would slow construction according to market conditions.
Big-name developers Longfor Properties and China Vanke said this month that 80 percent and 70 percent of their planned projects for 2014 were scheduled to be completed in the second half, respectively.
Inventories rose 8.4 percent as of the end of July from March, when the industry correction started to gain traction, according to Reuters calculations based on data from China Real Estate Information Corp (CRIC). The Shanghai-based research firm tracks 28 mostly first and second-tier cities.
Of the 28 cities, inventories in 18 cities will take more than one year to clear, and among them two would require over two years, the research company said.
Shenyang city in northeast Liaoning province has the worst excess supply, with 34.6 months of inventory supply, CRIC said.
China Overseas Land & Investment, Country Garden , Evergrande Real Estate, Longfor Properties, Beijing Capital Land and Gemdale Corp all have projects in the city.
"The board believes that with the peak of sales in the coming second half of 2014, the general situation of excessive housing supply is expected to continue," said Evergrande, China's third-largest developer.
Qingdao was the second-worst city in terms of oversupply, with CRIC estimating it would take 26.7 months to clear inventories. It forecast it would take around 23 months to clear excess supply in Ningbo, Fuzhou, Wuxi and Zhongshan.
Among the four top-tier cities, the overhang for Beijing and Shenzhen stands at 19.8 months and 20.4 months, respectively, up 129 percent and 122 percent from a year earlier.
"Our industry has been spoiled. Why does it expect inventory to appreciate after sitting there for one, two years? If it's a piece of electronics it will become very cheap," said Yu Liang, president of China Vanke, the country's largest residential developer.
"Cashflow is very important. If you cut price and get cash back, you may still be able to buy new land quickly and do well with your business."
Some developers, such as Evergrande, Greentown and Kaisa, are shifting projects to first-tier cities where demand is stronger, while state-backed developer China Merchants Land said it is helping customers to get mortgage quotas from banks to speed up the application process.
China Vanke said it is also working on enlarging its customer base by selling its projects directly on the Internet.
"We have to adapt to the new demand. We can't sit here and wait for customers like we used to anymore. We have to proactively look for customers," President Yu said.