BEIJING, April 18 -- Home prices in major Chinese cities grew at a slower pace in March, with fewer cities reporting month-on-month price gains, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) announced on Friday.
Of a statistical pool of 70 major Chinese cities, 56 saw month-on-month gains in new home prices last month, down from 57 in February.
For existing homes, prices increased in 42 cities in March, also down from 46 in the previous month, the data showed.
Month on month, new homes in four cities saw prices decline while 14 cities saw prices drop in existing homes.
Year on year, prices of new homes increased in 69 cities last month, even though 68 of them saw the rates of growth moderating, said Liu Jianwei, a senior statistician at the NBS.
In 58 cities, the growth rates also decelerated in the prices of existing homes in March, Liu said.
Price gains in fewer cities and a price growth moderation have come about amid sluggish property sales and an economic slowdown in the first quarter of 2014.
The NBS data showed 201.11 million square meters of property were sold in the first quarter, down 3.8 percent year on year. The sagging market also led to a slide in economic growth, which slowed to 7.4 percent in the first quarter, down from 7.7 percent in the last quarter of 2013.
"Based on the data, it is fair to say the country's property market is facing a downturn, because high inventories especially in third- and fourth-tier cities and people's growing reluctance to buy homes mean a further slide in both sales and price growth," said Zhang Dawei, chief analyst with property agent Centaline.
Zhang noted that the average new home prices of the 70 surveyed cities grew only 0.23 percent in March month on month while average existing home prices gained 0.12 percent. "The two figures both marked the lowest rate of growth since 2013, which shows price growth has begun to moderate after it peaked in the fourth quarter of 2013," he said.
Chen Huai, a researcher at the China Academy of Social Sciences, said that people's expectations seemed to be changing since this year and more of them were taking a wait-and-see approach amid reports of new housing projects cutting prices in the cities of Hangzhou, Beijing and Shenzhen.
Centaline data showed that 8,943 existing home units were sold in the Chinese capital of Beijing in March, with this number of transactions at the lowest level since 2009. With the sagging transactions, the prices of existing homes have also been on the slide since December, at a time when Beijing is actively promoting more affordable housing for the middle-income earners.
The transaction price of existing homes in Beijing averaged 31,400 yuan (5,099 U.S. dollars) per square meter in March, down 0.6 percent from February, Centaline data showed.
However, new home prices in the city climbed 0.5 percent month on month. Year on year, new home prices in mega-cities including Beijing and Shanghai still rose more than 10 percent, signalling demand still far outstrips supplies, according to Zhang.
In light of the diversified trends among different cities, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in March that policies covering the property market will be targeted and differentiated.