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Inflation and property prices ease in China

November 8, 2011 |  8:12 pm

Inflation in China eased for the third consecutive month in October on government policy tightening that has also started to drive residential property prices down with greater momentum.

China’s annual inflation rate fell to 5.5%, the country's National Bureau of Statistics said Wednesday, down from 6.1% in September.

The decline potentially gives the central government room to ease new credit after months of strict controls aimed at cooling down the country’s overheated economy.

Looser bank lending may soon be necessary to blunt the effects of another global recession and carefully guide economic growth down from unsustainable annual rates of 9% to 10%.

“Weakness in the export sector will be the main hindrance to economic growth in the coming quarters,” Jing Ulrich, an economist for J.P. Morgan, said in a research note. “However, with falling inflation clearing the way for policy easing, we believe that China will manage a ‘soft landing,’ achieving respectable GDP growth of 8.3% in 2012.”

That will require delicate policy tinkering as signs are growing that China’s frothy property market has begun its long-awaited correction.

A national index of property prices in 100 cities has declined two consecutive months as cash-strapped developers are experiencing steep declines in sales.

Tight credit and rules targeting speculators could drive prices down 10% to 30%, according to Barclays Capital.

That’s a relief to potential homebuyers priced out of the market and to a government worried a property bubble was stoking social instability.

So far, only angry homeowners have openly protested changes in prices. Last month, hundreds gathered outside the offices of a Shanghai developer that cut prices, demanding refunds and contract cancellations.

The government risks sinking prices at its own peril. Real estate accounts for a fifth of China’s economy, according to some estimates, and contributes up to half of local government revenue in the form of public land sales.

Still, Premier Wen Jiabao remains committed to driving residential prices down.

“We aim to lead housing prices back to a reasonable level and promote a healthy development of the real estate industry at the same time,” Wen told reporters Sunday.


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-- David Pierson

Photo: Two women look at buildings under construction in Chongqing, China. Credit: Getty Images