Slowing China home price rises add to doubts about economy

The property market is a key driver of the world's second-largest economy and a robust recovery in home prices and sales gave a stronger-than-expected boost to activity in the first half of the year

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Residential houses are seen in a valley in Tengchong, Yunnan province, August 7, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) - Home price rises in China slowed in June for a second straight month, adding to fears that a construction-led rebound in the economy may not be sustainable.
The property market is a key driver of the world's second-largest economy and a robust recovery in home prices and sales gave a stronger-than-expected boost to activity in the first half of the year. But slowing price growth in smaller cities and cooling property investment show the bounce may already be fading, raising the risk of weaker economic growth in coming months. Home prices in China's 70 major cities rose 7.3 percent in June from a year earlier, an official survey showed on Monday, accelerating from a 6.9 percent rise in May. To be sure, some of the biggest cities showed eye-popping gains on a yearly basis, with prices in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen up 46.7 percent and Shanghai up 27.7 percent. Gains on a monthly basis continued to slow, however, as cities tightened policies amid fears of a housing price bubble. The monthly rise slowed slightly to 0.8 percent in June, easing from 0.9 percent in May, according to a Reuters calculation based on data issued by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

"We continue to expect the property rebound to subside and property investment growth to fall in the second half of the year," economists at Nomura said in a note, predicting sales would stabilise and a large glut of unsold homes would keep pressure on prices in some areas.

"As such, our long-term view of a gradual (economic) slowdown remains unchanged."

Prices stalled or fell on a monthly basis in 15 cities in June, compared to 10 cities in May, with all of the weakness is smaller cities.

Industrial cities Tangshan, Jinzhou and Baotou went from gains to declines month-on-month in June.     First-tier cities maintained recent rapid price rises, with Shenzhen and Shanghai rising 2.0 percent and 2.6, respectively, on a monthly basis, faster than in May. That could raise the risk of further property cooling measures in some areas.

CRACKS IN THE FOUNDATION

The recovery in China's property market and a government infrastructure building spree in recent months have helped shore up growth in economy, which has been weighed down by weak demand at home and abroad, cooling investment and excess industrial capacity. But there are increasing signs of fatigue in the nine-month-old property rally, raising concerns about both the economic outlook and banks' heavy exposure to mortgage lending. Growth in investment in China's real estate sector slowed in first half to 6.1 percent, down from 7 percent in Jan-May, presenting a challenge for policymakers who need the critical sector to maintain growth without creating a price bubble.

For June alone, property investment was up only 3.5 percent from a year ago, according to Reuters calculations, compared with 6.6 percent in May. Policymakers are facing a tough balancing act. The concern is that tighter mortgage rules in the largest cities have not cooled prices enough, while fragile markets in secondary cities that are beset by oversupply likely need more stimulus to keep prices from sliding again. After the investment data on Friday, economists at ANZ said that China's property-led recovery was over, which could pose further risks to the economy in the second half of the year.

(Reporting by Winni Zhou, Nicholas Heath and Elias Glenn; Editing by Kim Coghill)