China easing mortgage rules on Evergrande contagion worries

BEIJING • China is loosening home loan restrictions at some of its largest banks, according to people familiar with the matter, adding to signs of growing concern by the authorities about contagion from the debt crisis at Evergrande Group.

Financial regulators told some major banks late last month to accelerate approval of mortgages in the last quarter, said the people, asking not to be identified. Lenders were also permitted to apply to sell securities backed by residential mortgages to free up loan quotas, easing a ban imposed early this year, the people said.

The moves come amid growing alarm that the liquidity crisis at Evergrande is spilling over to other developers as President Xi Jinping maintains harsh measures to cool the property market.

Fears of contagion risks intensified over the past two weeks after a surprise default by Fantasia Holdings Group and a warning from Sinic Holdings Group that its default was imminent.

While the latest move is positive for developers, it is unlikely to resolve their liquidity problems, said Mr Raymond Cheng, head of China and Hong Kong research at CGS-CIMB Securities.

He said regulators should also loosen policies for project loans and onshore corporate bond markets, given that offshore debt financing is "almost shut down at the moment".

China's credit growth also slowed last month, as weakness in the property market weighed on financing and lending activities, despite the central bank's call to stabilise credit expansion.

At a meeting chaired by central bank governor Yi Gang late last month, the authorities told 24 financial institutions to cooperate with governments "to jointly maintain the steady and healthy development of the real estate market and safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of housing consumers".

Beijing has stepped up efforts to limit the fallout from troubled Evergrande, which is becoming the biggest financial and social worry in the nation.

An estimated 1.6 million households have put deposits on Evergrande units that have yet to be built.

Combined contracted sales by the country's top 100 real estate companies tumbled 36 per cent last month from a year earlier, according to China Real Estate Information Corp.

"Any further easing should depend on if sales could improve significantly from the current weak level," said Mr Patrick Wong, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.

"Potential buyers could still feel concerned about purchasing the pre-sale units from debt-laden developers," he added.

Based on a "managed" restructuring of Evergrande with some spillover to the rest of the property sector, Citigroup cut its China growth forecast to 4.9 per cent from 5.5 per cent, according to a note on Wednesday.

The pressure on growth will likely trigger further policy easing, including a 25 basis point interest rate cut next year, according to economists led by Mr Liu Li-Gang.

Easing mortgages could help first-time home buyers with a genuine need and boost transactions after an unprecedented cap on banks' exposure to the real estate sector from the beginning of the year dried up loans.

Meanwhile, the regulators have signalled a willingness to prop up healthy property companies by asking banks to refrain from cutting off funding to developers all at once, Bloomberg reported last month.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2021, with the headline 'China easing mortgage rules on Evergrande contagion worries'. Subscribe