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China Focus: Officials reiterate firm stance on property control

(Xinhua)

14:04, March 03, 2012

BEIJING, March 2 (Xinhua) -- China's housing officials recently reiterated the country's commitment to bringing housing prices back down to reasonable levels, dismissing market rumors of a possible loosening in its control policies.

Wang Juelin, vice director of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development's policy research center, said the tightening policies will stay in place for 2012.

"There will not be any easing, even after the 'two sessions' (China's annual legislative sessions) are finished," he said.

Wang's remarks came just ahead of the National People's Congress and National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference sessions, where representatives across the country will gather to discuss issues of public concern.

Prospective homeowners and property developers have both taken to the sidelines to wait for signs of change from the sessions, as intermittent easing policies in some regions have fueled policy-loosening predictions.

In one case, the municipal government of Shanghai said weeks ago that families who are not registered in Shanghai can buy second homes if they have obtained residence permits within the last three years, a move that contradicted the central government's current home purchase restrictions.

Days later, the Shanghai government reversed course by issuing a notice that overruled its previous statement and clarified its stance on property price controls.

Similar reversals by the municipal governments of Foshan and Wuhu have been read by some as a way of testing the effect of policy-loosening.

"The central government's position is not likely to change in the short-term, but there will be space for local governments to gradually ease policies," said Qiao Hong, chief economist for Morgan Stanley (Greater China).

Qiao said that as long as the central government does not create stricter rules, some forms of mild easing will be allowed.

But Wang offered a different view, saying if local governments continue to act against the tightening policies, there is a possibility that relevant departments will come up with harsher regulations.

Wang's words were echoed by an anonymous official in charge of property market monitoring, who said in an article in the Shanghai Securities Journal that the central government will not tolerate discrepancies.

China started adopting measures to rein in the runaway market in 2010, introducing tightened credit, a third-home purchase ban, higher down payments and property tax trials.

Prices have seen slower growth as a result of the cooling efforts. In January, home prices in 70 major Chinese cities monitored by the National Bureau of Statistics all saw prices stabilize.

Wang attributed the achievement to concerted efforts and consistent policies at all levels of government.

However, he said governments should be careful when making policy adjustments, as the risk of a price rebound still exists.

"The slightest movement in some cities will affect other cities, thus endangering overall control efforts," he said, adding that government macroeconomic policies will help guide the market toward healthy development.

The Ministry of Housing said earlier this year that it will launch a housing database that will contain personal housing information concerning 40 major cities by the end of June in order to dampen speculation.

The move was widely seen as a step to expand the property tax trials in Shanghai and Chongqing nationwide.

"The property tax is an important tool for guiding the market. Now that Shanghai and Chongqing have conducted the trials for a year, it is time for us to speed up the process," Wang said.

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