China's 'land kings' under threat as tightening takes a toll

Thu Mar 6, 2014 5:16pm EST
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By Clare Jim and Yimou Lee

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The days of Chinese developers snatching up premium properties with record-breaking offers are coming to an end as cooling measures bite and sale prices are squeezed, ending the reign of a handful of "land kings" in the world's second-largest economy.

First coined during the stimulus-fuelled 2009 real-estate boom, the Chinese expression is used to describe developers - at the time mostly state-owned companies - willing to pay whatever it took to secure land banks.

A string of records were broken at auctions late last year, when private-sector real-estate companies increased their presence in the market.

But while the cost of land in premier markets, or first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, soared 135 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, property sale prices inched up just 15 percent, according to BNP Paribas.

The already high costs and the prospect of slowing property sales mean the days of records being set at land auctions are coming to a close, analysts say.

Signs of a slowdown, from weaker home price data to developers cutting prices, have already rattled financial markets in recent weeks. Real estate investment accounts for 15 percent of China's gross domestic product.

"Developers will be more rational when bidding for land this year, unlike the huge number of land kings we saw the year before," said Lin Bo, vice-research director at real estate information provider CRIC. "Considering the risks and costs, major developers are not willing to pay for premium land now."

Privately-owned China Vanke, the country's largest listed developer, said on Thursday that one of its operating strategies was to not be a land king.   Continued...

A view of commercial and residential buildings in Beijing in this February 8, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Jason Lee/Files