At The Wall Street Journal, Stella Yifan Xie and Mike Bird tell the story of the unabated expansion of the world’s largest asset bubble. They write:
Even the coronavirus hasn’t stopped the world’s biggest asset bubble from getting bigger.
After a brief pause during coronavirus lockdowns in February, a Chinese property boom in some megacities that many thought was unsustainable has resumed its relentless upward climb, with prices rising higher and investors chasing deals despite millions of job losses and other economic problems.
In March, 288 apartments in a new Shenzhen property development sold out online in less than eight minutes. A few days later, buyers snapped up more than 400 units in a new housing complex in Suzhou. In Shanghai, apartment resales neared a record high in April, by one estimate. One Saturday last month, nearly 9,000 people each put down a deposit of one million yuan ($141,300) to qualify to buy apartments in a Shenzhen development.
“I barely had time for lunch on weekends in March” when the market started bouncing back, said Zhao Wenhao, a Shanghai-based agent at Lianjia, one of China’s largest real-estate brokerage firms. Many clients worry China’s currency will depreciate in the global economic slowdown, he said, driving even more money into housing as a haven.
The resulting asset bubble, many economists say, now eclipses the one in U.S. housing in the 2000s. At the peak of the U.S. property boom, about $900 billion a year was being invested in residential real estate. In the 12 months ended in June, about $1.4 trillion was invested in Chinese housing. More was invested last month in Chinese real estate than any other month on record.
The total value of Chinese homes and developers’ inventory hit $52 trillion in 2019, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., twice the size of the U.S. residential market and outstripping even the entire U.S. bond market.
The market’s coronavirus pause didn’t last long. Urban home prices in China were 4.9% higher in June than in the year-earlier period. Year-to-date investment is up 1.9% in the first half of the year, despite a huge drop in sales in February. On Thursday, China said its overall economy grew by 3.2% in the three months ended June 30.
Read more here.