Cautious China banks could undermine Beijing's property stimulus efforts

Tue Mar 31, 2015 3:03am EDT
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By Engen Tham

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - As stock market investors cheer Beijing's latest bid to boost the country's ailing housing sector, Chinese bankers are gritting their teeth over the risks they face in further relaxing lending rules to home buyers.

Alarmed by persistent weakness in the property market and its increasing drag on the economy, policymakers said on Monday they were cutting downpayments levels for the second time in six months and offering bigger tax breaks.

The hope is that by allowing buyers to get mortgages more easily, China can revive the housing market, which accounts for 15 percent of its economy, and where prices are falling at a record pace.

But for bankers who are in charge of passing on the policy discounts, the gains for home buyers are in some ways being made at their expense.

"The difficulty for us now is that the deposit has gone down, which increases the risks for us," said a loan officer at one of China's four biggest banks. "It's a question of leverage."

"We won’t lend if someone isn’t credit worthy – there is a lot of backup due diligence we do these days – and it’s got stricter," the banker said.

Bankers at two other firms said they, too, will toe the policy line and reduce downpayment levels for second-home buyers, but that is about as far as they will go, and mortgage rates are unlikely to be lowered.

"We’re already losing money at a 70 percent downpayment level", said a banker at a mid-sized Chinese bank. "We’re unlikely to reduce the lending rate."   Continued...

Farmers plant rice seedlings in a field near a residential compound in Shaxi township, Guangdong province March 29, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer