BEIJING, June 18 (Xinhua) -- China's property sector continued to cool in May, as new home prices in half of a sample of 70 major cities showed month-on-month drops, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said in an online statement on Wednesday.
Thirty-five cities saw month-on-month drops in new home prices last month, contrasted with eight in April. Only 15 cities saw month-on-month increases, substantially down from 44 in April.
The average home price in the 70 cities slipped 0.15 percent from the previous month, marking the first drop in more than a year, according to the NBS.
The average new home price in April increased 0.06 percent month on month.
Of all the 70 cities, prices in Hangzhou of east China's Zhejiang Province dropped the most, down by 1.4 percent, followed by 0.7 percent for Shijiazhuang, Wuxi and Xuzhou.
The highest month-on-month price increase was 0.3 percent in central China's Zhengzhou, while the price in Beijing increased 0.2 percent, faster than the growth pace in April, the NBS data showed.
For existing homes, prices declined in 35 cities month on month in May, up from 22 cities in April.
On a year-on-year basis, however, new home prices in 69 cities of the statistical pool continued to increase, with the highest growth at 11.3 percent. Prices of existing homes fell in only five major cities from a year ago but rose in 64 others with one city staying flat.
Liu Jianwei, senior statistician for the NBS, said home buyers have started to take a wait-and-see attitude due to uncertain market prospects, prompting developers to cut prices to alleviate pressures from piling inventories.
There have been signs of cooling in the once-overheated housing market since the beginning of the year as the economy's pace slowed further to 7.4 percent year-on-year growth in the first quarter.
A series of other housing indicators have shown the sector is bracing for a price adjustment or even a turnaround after years of booming. In May, the property development climate index dropped 0.77 points from April to 95.02 points, representing month-on-month declines for four consecutive months.
The total area of property sales lost 7.8 percent year on year in the first five months to 360.70 million square meters, even steeper than that seen in the Jan.-April period. During the same period, property sales volume was down by 8.5 percent year on year, following a drop of 7.8 percent in the first four months, according to the NBS.
Property developers have begun to reduce prices in the hope of reviving sluggish sales to prevent potential breaks in their capital chain.
New homes built on land near Asian Games Town in south China's Guangzhou City, the country's most expensive land in 2010, were sold with up to 30 percent discount last week as the developer hurried to recoup cash to keep the company afloat.
The grim climate has even influenced the country's first-tier cities, which were believed as exceptions of the overall downturn and would continue the rising momentum this year driven by housing demand from new urbanites.
New home prices in four megacities performed unexpectedly weak in May. Prices in Shanghai and south China's Shenzhen cities fell 0.3 percent and 0.2 percent month on month respectively, while prices in Guangzhou remained unchanged. Only Beijing reported an increase, of 0.2 percent.
The price change bucked the situation in April when all four cities maintained price growth and broke the usual belief that housing prices in megacities were unlikely to fall as there were always migrants seeking for places to settle down.
Ma Guangyuan, director of the Private Economy Research Center under Renmin University, said the volatile price change indicated a turning point in the country's real estate industry.
His words were shared with Zhang Dawei, chief analyst at real estate agent Centaline Property, who said the faster-than-expected change in the property market suggests an incoming adjustment that will occur not only in small- and medium-sized cities but first-tier ones as well.
Zhang predicts the adjustment will exert profound and lasting influence on the sector amid the dented market confidence.
Chang Jian, chief China economist at Barclays, said in a research note that the housing market has experienced a sharp turnaround after a strong 2013, with sluggish home sales and slowing investment.
He expects the cyclical adjustment to continue into 2015 as the sector has already been sizzled by overbuilding and increased developer leverage.