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China heading for soft landing despite property slide, IMF says

Spend on social housing will counter real estate market slowdown

Gulf News

Hong Kong: International Monetary Fund (IMF) official Zhu Min said China will avoid an economic hard landing even as government data showed property prices falling in most of the nation's biggest cities.

"China's heading for a soft landing," Zhu, a deputy managing director at the IMF, said in Hong Kong yesterday. At the same conference, Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens also expressed confidence in an economy he said is closing in on that of the US. Prices of new apartments fell in 45 of 70 cities in February from January, the Statistics Bureau said yesterday.

Premier Wen Jiabao has prolonged a crackdown on real estate speculation to reduce the risk of asset-price bubbles and make housing affordable, telling lawmakers this month that prices remain far from "reasonable." Zhu's comments contrast with JPMorgan Chase & Co. strategist Adrian Mowat saying last week that weakness in car sales and cement and steel production indicate the nation is already experiencing "a hard landing."

Stocks decline

Chinese stocks fell on the property data, with the Shanghai Composite Index down 0.2 per cent as of 1.32pm local time yesterday.

Zhu, a former deputy governor of China's central bank, said China's pace of investment remained strong even after moderating. Stevens said: "It seems likely that the Chinese economy will grow pretty strongly on average for a while yet," adding that officials have "the will and the capacity" to spur the expansion as needed.

The Australian said Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) may equal that of the US in about a decade in purchasing power parity terms, which account for differences in exchange rates.

Zhu, meanwhile, echoed IMF head Christine Lagarde in highlighting risks to the global economy even as he acknowledged signs of improvement. Europe's financial markets are "very fragile" and while emerging market growth is strong, it's "weaker than expected," he said. The world expansion is slowing, he added.

In Beijing on Sunday, Lagarde cautioned policy makers against a false sense of security as the world economy stabilises, highlighting elevated oil prices, debt levels in developed nations and the risk of slowing growth in emerging markets.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea yesterday reported that department store sales rebounded last month, while Hong Kong may say unemployment climbed in February, according to a Bloomberg News survey of economists.

Italy may say industrial orders fell in January from the previous month, a Bloomberg survey showed. The European Central Bank will release Eurozone current account figures for January, while the European Union's statistics office will report the region's construction output for the same month.

In the US, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo may say its index of builder confidence rose for a sixth straight month to 30 in March, from 29 in February, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey.

Clampdown on property

In China, a two-year campaign to rein in property prices has included measures such as higher down payments and mortgage rates, and purchase restrictions. A government programme to build millions of low-cost homes may help to counter the drag on an economy that grew 8.9 per cent in the fourth quarter.

"China's home prices fell further, but it doesn't mean there will be a policy loosening any time soon," Qu Hongbin, a Hong Kong-based economist at HSBC Holdings Plc, said. "The government is not worried too much about the impact of a slowing property market on economic growth because investment in social housing will still be big."