By Zheng Yangpeng
BEIJING, Feb. 25 (Xinhuanet) -- Growth in home prices continued to slow in January, adding to signs of a cooling property sector, official data showed on Monday.
The trend emerged after local governments took measures to rein in escalating prices and banks tightened lending to property developers.
Month-on-month average growth in new home prices fell to 0.49 percent in January from 0.51 percent in December, the National Bureau of Statistics said.
Of the 70 cities tracked by the bureau, 62 saw home prices rise in January from December, compared with 65 cities in December.
Prices in six cities fell in January compared with the previous month, with prices in two cities remaining unchanged.
Growth in new property prices slowed in January in four major cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen — the bureau said.
New home prices in Beijing rose by 18.8 percent compared with the same period last year, the slowest year-on-year growth since August.
In Shanghai, prices increased by 20.9 percent year-on-year, the slowest since September.
Property prices rose by 18.9 percent in Guangzhou and by 18.2 percent in Shenzhen from a year earlier, the slowest since July.
Liu Jianwei, a senior analyst at the bureau, said two factors contributed to the slowdown in price growth.
First, a slew of provincial capitals have tightened property policies and increased supplies of affordable housing since November, helping to stabilize market expectations.
Second, a tightened credit supply has reduced property turnover, denting prices.
Shen Jian-guang, an economist in Hong Kong at Mizuho Securities Asia, said: "We see firm determination by the Chinese government to curb the property market.
"Measures on the financial market are having an impact on the property market. We should see a turning point this year when home prices in China's first-tier cities stop rising."
Data from private research institutions show that property turnover fell further in February.
Weekly data from China Index Academy, a research body with the nation's biggest real estate website, SouFun Holdings, show that 39 out of the 42 cities it monitored from Feb 10 to 16 saw a fall in transactions compared with a year ago.
Transactions in Beijing dropped by 91.8 percent, while those in Shenzhen fell by 89 percent.
A report by property brokerage Centaline China said, "Although the Spring Festival period is traditionally the off-season for the property market, this year was particularly quiet."
The report compared turnover data in 54 cities it monitored during the Spring Festival period (15 days before and after Lunar New Year) for the past three years. While data for Spring Festival in 2012 were the worst, this year's were the second-lowest. In first-tier cities, turnover fell by nearly 40 percent.
In Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, prices at a property project were cut by 2,000 yuan ($328) per square meter, while in Changzhou, Jiangsu province, prices were reduced at a project by 5,000 yuan per square meter, Chinese media reported.
The tightening of national monetary supply also took its toll on mortgage policies.
A number of major banks canceled their 15 percent discount on first-home mortgages, while some smaller banks even raised their mortgage rates to 130 percent of the benchmark rate.
The development saw Chinese developers' share prices fall on Monday. Real estate stocks tumbled, leading to a 1.75 percent decline in the Shanghai Composite Index, its steepest loss in a month and a half.
Yang Hongxu, vice-president of the E-house China R&D Institute in Shanghai, said turnover and price rises will moderate this year, but he remains upbeat about China's property market. "The price gain will narrow, but it will still be a gain. Prices in major cities will not drop," he said.
(Source: China Daily)