About the author: Desmond Lachman is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was previously a deputy director in the International Monetary Fund’s Policy Development and Review Department and the chief emerging market economic strategist at Salomon Smith Barney.
Today, a Hong Kong court ordered the liquidation of Evergrande, a Chinese company that was one of the world’s largest property developers. After years of fruitless negotiations between the company and its creditors over the restructuring of its $300 billion debt mountain, a Chinese court said that “enough was enough.” In a blow to an already troubled Chinese housing market, it ordered that the company’s assets be liquidated to pay back its creditors.
How mainland China handles Hong Kong’s court order could have major implications for Chinese property prices and foreign investor confidence. If it enforces the court’s order, that could see an acceleration in Chinese home-price declines by adding to supply in an already glutted market. It could also heighten social tensions by disappointing around 1.5 million Chinese households who have put down large deposits for homes that are yet to be completed.
If it ignores the Hong Kong court’s order, it risks dealing a further blow to waning investor confidence. Questions would arise about China’s willingness to abide by the rule of law and to offer a safe economic environment for investors.
The Evergrande liquidation comes at an awkward time for the Chinese economy. It is already in deep trouble and could be headed for a Japanese-style lost economic decade. The news also suggests that China will disappoint the consensus view that the Chinese economy is headed for only a minor economic slowdown this year. This could have major implications for the U.S. and world economic outlook, considering that China is the world’s second-largest economy and until recently was its main engine of economic growth.
Even before Evergrande’s liquidation order, a whole set of indicators suggested that the former Chinese economic growth model was dead. Chinese home prices have been falling for more than a year; both wholesale and consumer prices have been falling; stock prices have plummeted as foreign investors have taken fright; and youth unemployment has risen to around 20%.
There have also been questions about President Xi Jinping’s economic stewardship. First, his disastrous zero-tolerance Covid policy contributed to the country’s slowest economic growth in 30 years. Now his increased economic intervention is undermining the underpinnings of the Chinese economic growth miracle unleashed by Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the 1980s.
Chinese stocks rose last week on news that authorities are taking steps to stimulate the economy. But anyone thinking that the Chinese economy will respond favorably to yet another round of policy stimulus has not been paying attention to the size of that country’s housing and credit market bubble that has now burst. Nor have they been paying attention to the troubling degree to which that country’s economy has become unbalanced.
According to Harvard’s Ken Rogoff, the Chinese property market now accounts for almost 30% of that country’s GDP. That is around 50% more than that in most developed economies. Meanwhile, over the past decade Chinese credit to its non financial private sector expanded by 100% of GDP, according to the Bank for International Settlements. That is a larger rate of credit expansion than that which preceded Japan’s lost economic decade in the 1990s and that which preceded the 2008 bursting of the U.S. subprime and housing market.
The overall Chinese economy is highly unbalanced in the sense that it has become overly reliant on investment demand. The Chinese investment-to-GDP ratio is over 40%, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That’s sharply higher than the more normal 25% ratio in most other developed and mid-sized emerging market economies.
The consensus forecast is that Chinese economic growth this year will continue at a 5% clip. Anyone relying on that forecast should reflect on the many failures by the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central bankers to foresee the grave problems of the subprime housing market in the U.S. in early 2008. It would seem that most economists are downplaying indications of major Chinese economic problems that are plain sight. Chinese economic problems could unleash serious deflationary forces for the U.S. and global economy. The Federal Reserve would be ignoring them at its peril.
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Alexandre de Betak and his wife are focusing on their most personal project yet.
Hong Kong’s superluxury homes have lost more than a quarter of their value. Prices haven’t hit the bottom yet.
China’s economic slowdown is wreaking havoc on Hong Kong’s luxury property market .
The most expensive homes in the city are changing hands at steep discounts to what they were worth just a few years ago. Chinese property tycoons, struggling to contain the fallout of their collapsing business empires, have become forced sellers. Bank lenders are seizing properties after luxury homeowners miss loan payments.
The average selling price of superluxury homes, defined as those worth more than the equivalent of $38 million, has fallen by more than a quarter since the middle of 2022, said Cherrie Lai, senior director and head of residential sales in Hong Kong at Savills . It will fall further this year as sellers accept reduced prices to cash out quickly, she said.
The slide in prices shows the fallout of China’s sputtering economy, which is suffering from deflation , slowing exports and moribund consumer confidence. A continuing real-estate slowdown in China is proving particularly painful, since the country’s big-spending property magnates were behind some of Hong Kong’s biggest luxury-property deals in recent years.
Hong Kong’s property market has also been squeezed by rising interest rates in the U.S. The Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar, and the city’s de facto central bank matches Federal Reserve interest-rate increases. But the U.S. market has held up much better: Nine-figure home sales in places such as California and Florida have skyrocketed , and luxury-home prices in the top 5% of the U.S. market have soared over the past decade.
The luxury homes up for grabs in Hong Kong include three mansions linked to collapsed real-estate company China Evergrande , said Victoria Allan, founder of Habitat Property. Local media reported they were ultimately owned by Hui Ka Yan , the company’s founder.
The three properties, which are adjacent mansions on a hillside road known as Black’s Link, have been seized by creditors. House 10B was sold for about $115 million in 2019 but it is now valued by banks at roughly $55 million, said Allan. It has yet to find a buyer. The other two properties could be put on the market next month, she said.
Chen Hongtian, the mainland-Chinese founder of property-investment firm Cheung Kei Group, bought a luxury high-rise apartment occupying an entire floor in a building designed by architect Frank Gehry in 2015, paying about $49.5 million. It was later seized by a creditor, according to official records. In September, shipping magnate Kwai Sze Hoi bought the property for $53.4 million, records show, below what property agents said was a market valuation of about $87 million at the time.
Homes seized by creditors usually sell at a discount to market prices, property agents say.
A waterfront house at Residence Bel-Air, a luxury residential development, belonged to Mai Fan , the chief executive of Kaisa Group —another developer that defaulted as China’s property crisis widened in recent years. He acquired the house through a company called Million Link Development in 2017, corporate and land records show, at a time when property prices were still climbing. Receivers were appointed to handle the property in 2021 and sold the house the following year for about $46 million, according to the land registry.
In one of Hong Kong’s top sales in recent years, a local businessman sold his house for the equivalent of about $107 million last month, well below the initial asking price of $166 million, according to Savills. It is located on Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak, a mountaintop neighbourhood that is home to business moguls and celebrities living in some of the city’s most expensive properties.
“China still has very wealthy people, but they’re a different group now,” said Victor Cheng, a realtor in Hong Kong. “They’re not the highflying property moguls but those who may not have made as much when China grew rapidly but whose businesses grew steadily.”
He said the new breed of luxury-home buyer in Hong Kong is cash-rich and less likely to load up on debt.
Some mainland Chinese homeowners have been forced or pressured to sell—often at around 20% below market prices—because they need cash to pay off debt, said Cheng. Some top executives from the mainland previously bought trophy homes and only used them occasionally without renting them out, he said.
Data analysed by online real-estate marketplace Spacious.hk suggest a tougher time ahead for luxury homes. The number of sale inquiries on the platform for homes priced at the equivalent of $10 million or above fell 45% in the past 12 months, said Spacious.hk Chief Operating Officer James Fisher. Inquiries for homes under $1.3 million and for those priced between that and $3.2 million fell by 8% and 25%, respectively.
The price index for private homes slumped to a seven-year low by the end of 2023, according to Hong Kong’s Rating and Valuation Department.