China eases foreign purchase rules for property after yuan depreciation

Residential buildings stand illuminated at night in the Nanshan district of Shenzhen, China.
Residential buildings stand illuminated at night in the Nanshan district of Shenzhen, China. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China loosened restrictions on foreign investment in real estate after the yuan's depreciation reduced the appeal of Chinese property assets.

Overseas companies' Chinese units and foreign nationals working and living in China can buy properties for their own use that meet "real needs," Chinese authorities including the Ministry of Commerce said in a joint statement. Requirements that foreign investors should have paid their registered capital in full before borrowing local loans are removed, according to the statement, dated Aug. 19.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange Property Index, which tracks 24 developers listed on the city's exchange, gained 4 per cent as of 10:36 am local time, while the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index added 2.2 per cent. Greenland Holdings Corp., China's largest developer by sales, jumped 5.7 per cent, the most in almost two weeks.

The move came as China's first major devaluation since 1994 this month made inbound investments, already damped by high property prices and a weakening growth outlook, "worthy of a careful pause," according to realtor Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.

The revisions to restrictions introduced in 2006 aim to ensure "stable and healthy" growth of the property market, according to the statement also jointly issued by the central bank.

"It's a substantial easing of restrictions on the central government level from the previous tightening," said Liu Yuan, a Shanghai-based research director for Centaline Group, China's biggest property agency. "However, the actual impact might be small, as overseas buyers only make a microscopic proportion of China's housing market."

Non-Chinese homebuyers accounted for 0.5 per cent of existing-home transactions in Shanghai last year, according to Centaline.

The government's 2006 rule, imposed after rapid foreign property investment and home buying, banned foreign citizens living and working in China for less than a year from buying a home in the country. Foreign investors setting up a property company were required to have a registered capital no less than half of their total investments, if they exceeded US$10 million.

The growth in China's property development investment slumped by almost 10 percentage points from a year earlier to 4.3 per cent in the first seven months of this year as developers' confidence sagged, putting pressure on an economy that was already slowing.