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And what if it bursts Luxury goods are selling fast, houses are barely affordable, and there are too many office buildings.
China's economy is showing signs of overheating, but economists say it won't boil over. Sound familiar? THE VIEW FROM the 52nd floor of the Ritz Carlton in Shanghai is spectacular: China's high net worth individuals can gaze across some of the world's most expensive properties louis vuitton shoes gumtree while choosing pricey reds from the encyclopaedic wine list and tucking into antipasti so authentically Tuscan they are guaranteed to melt the heart of even the stoniest of billionaires. The sleekly groomed staff are French and Indian as well as Chinese, and the sight of Shanghai's new rich is so far removed from the China of 20 years louis vuitton neverfull quanto custa ago that it has an almost science fiction quality. Could all this simply go pop? Something about the sheer level of luxury brings to mind the decadence of the last days of the Raj, ancient Rome or the latter part of the Celtic Tiger. It's not hard to see why people are fearful that the strong rise in China's property market, which is a key factor in the country's economic rise, could turn out to be a bubble that will burst and take the fragile global economy with it. Satellite images released recently showed thousands of empty "ghost towns", much like the ghost estates in Ireland, and there are lots of empty offices in the central business districts of many major Chinese cities. A few floors down in the same hotel, at a showcase fair for China's luxury minded billionaires, Norah Jones warbles softly through Harman Kardon speakers as Rupert Hoogewerf, publisher of the Hurun Report, which counts China's wealthy and analyses what they do, lists off the brands favoured by the country's rich: Patek Philippe watches, Mercedes E Class cars, Gulfstream jets, Armani suits, Azimut yachts and Louis XIII brandy. They also like to spend money on diamonds no surprise there wine, travel and their children's education, a message that our universities are well aware of as they try to woo Chinese students to study in Ireland. More than 50 per cent of rich parents are sending their children to schools in the US and Britain. Canada is ranked third, followed by Switzerland. According to Hurun's most recent data, and in Chinese yuan terms, the country had 875,000 multimillionaires and 55,000 billionaires last year 6.1 per cent more millionaires and 7.8 per cent more billionaires than in 2009. More than 50 per cent of the mainland's wealthiest, who each have assets of more than 10 million yuan (1.15 million), spend between one million yuan (115,000) and three million yuan (230,000) every year, and own more than three cars. These cars the white BMW 7 Series, the black Audi A6 models with extended wheelbases, the Porsche Cayenne SUVs throng China's fabulous new network of motorways. The tycoons are young, too. The average age of the respondents with at least 100 million yuan was 39; that of those with at least one billion yuan was 43. Both averages were a year younger than last year. EVEN MORE THAN WATCHES,or cars, or yachts, what China's wealthy people like to buy is property. Their main investment choice is real estate, and the figures are of a kind to make any Irish person nervous. Look at the rise in property prices last year. About 310 billion was spent on land transactions in 2010, a 70 per cent rise on the previous year. The biggest jump in property prices was in Beijing, where they rose 42 per cent, with the average price 20,328 yuan (2,345) per square metre. Shanghai's price hike ranked second, with 40 per cent, although it is the most expensive market, with prices reaching 22,261 yuan (2,561) per square metre, and 24 billion worth of residential properties were traded, despite government efforts to cool the market. Prices in the southern boom town of Shenzhen rose 33 per cent last year, and they were up 23 per cent in Guangzhou. Some of the scenarios will ring depressingly familiar to Irish readers. Bian Xiaosong, who is 33, and Zhao Xiaohui, who is 32, both work for local firms and have a family income of about 1,400 a month, which is a pretty good salary in China. In 2008 they bought an apartment in Beijing for about 120,000, paying 20 per cent down. They pay about half their income every month on their 20 year mortgage. "Sure, we feel pressure that we can hardly save our money to do other things, and we need to think carefully before we decide to have a baby. But we had no louis vuitton agenda cover ebay choice: we have to buy an apartment to live in, and the price has doubled now anyway," says Bian. "Really, we don't care so much about whether the price was rising up or going down, since we bought it to live in, not to invest in, unless the price fell so much that it cost less than we bought it for. All my friends bought apartments like we did; it's our main expense," he says. "We believe the government won't let the real estate market collapse, especially here in Beijing, the capital. If the real estate market collapses, the whole economy will go down." "There is some research out there looking at housing and asset prices in China, and there are indications that the property market is somewhat overvalued in China," says Brian Lucey, associate professor of finance at Trinity College Dublin. "The question is whether that could be a major problem, and that I don't know. It could be that it doesn't go to the heart of the economy and could be absorbed by the broader economy." Much like Ireland, however, China is tied to an inappropriate exchange rate, because the yuan is not a free floating currency. "They've got to think of floating, and that will mean a significant appreciation," says Lucey. "They are coming up against the limits of freedom to manoeuvre in controlling the political economy. I would be confident these boys are smart enough, but there are significant risks. If the Chinese economy slows down in a wrenching manner, you are going to have a significant slowdown in the world economy. "China has to act in a responsible manner, and that involves loosening the exchange rate, and the longer they delay doing that the more wrenching the slowdown. It will have to happen gradually, but if they don't move swiftly it will only get worse. They really need to get moving," says Lucey. MAO YUSHI ISone of China's best known economists and a director of the Tian Ze Economic Research Centre. "We have a lot of problems now, for example the real estate bubble," he wrote on his blog. "Much of the increase in GDP is actually because of this bubble. When one building sells at an incredibly expensive price, beyond the normal market price, it is a distortion, which inflates the bubble in the real estate market. This bubble relates for sure to a series of macroeconomic policies, including the savings made from having the renminbi [or yuan] currency at a low exchange for a long time." A realtor surnamed Jiao, who is 45, has managed a property agency for the past 14 years. "There is no bubble, but there is a conflict between supply and demand. In the past four or five years the number of new louis vuitton bracelet size apartment buildings in Beijing is falling, probably by about 60 per cent, while demand has doubled or trebled. So for sure the price will go up. People's incomes are rising; the numbers of people moving to the city is rising," he says. "People about 30 years of age need a home, want to start a family, but their parents are still young, and they don't want to share with them. So what do you do? And with the move from the rural areas and villages to the cities in recent years, more and more people are here in the big city. With such huge demand in a city such as Beijing, where land is limited, demand is sure to rise," says Jiao. "The government has gotten smarter; they understand that it's better to let the market decide the price, and then they set up a scheme to protect middle and low income earners." Much of the rise of the market is attributable to China's incredible process of urbanisation. China has seen the number of city dwellers rise from 18 per cent of the population in 1978 to 46 per cent in 2008, a rise of 28 per cent in three decades. About 300 million Chinese now living in rural areas the equivalent of the population of the United States will move into cities in the next 20 years, and by 2025 at least 220 Chinese cities will likely have more than a million inhabitants. The visions of luxurious living in Shanghai and Beijing mask a growing wealth gap in China, a factor that has prompted the government to try to boost incomes in the countryside by offering tax breaks and other subsidies, as it fears the inequality could destabilise society. The broader expansion of the economy has also given most Chinese people a better life than ever, taken hundreds of millions off the poverty line and given people here power over their own destiny for the first time. Soft landing? happened in the West will not happen in China China's real estate boom stems from a powerful cocktail of factors. With inflation running at about 5 per cent, there is no point keeping your money in the bank because the deposit rate is only about 2.
5 per cent. So people look for other investment vehicles. With the stock market looking pricey, the classic investment is property.
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