Banks told to act more quickly on home loans

Updated: 2014-05-14 03:54

By JIANG XUEQING (China Daily)

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Commercial banks should set mortgage rates at "reasonable" levels and grant housing loans more quickly, especially for first time buyers, the People's Bank of China said in an online statement on Tuesday.

During a meeting with executives from 15 commercial banks on Monday, the PBOCemphasized that the banks should improve their housingfinance services and give priority to loans for first time homebuyers while keeping a closer eye on the associated risks.

"The central bank is aiming to maintain economic stability. The move signals that China is finetuning its macroeconomic policy rather than adopting strong stimulus policies," said Yin Zhongli, a financial researcher with the Institute of Finance and Banking at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

He added that whether this socalled "window guidance" by the central bankwill avert a plunge in the housing market depends on whether commercial banks implement the policy effectively.

Among banks attending the meeting were Agricultural Bank of China Ltd, China Construction Bank Corp, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd, Bank of China Ltd and Bank of Communications Ltd.

The property market has been cooling down. The latest evidence of the downtrend came on Tuesday from the National Bureau of Statistics, which said that housing investment grew 16.6 percent yearonyear in the first four months of 2014, a decline of 0.2 percentage point from the growthrate of the first quarter.

In the first four months, new housing starts stood at 311.84 million square meters, down 24.5 percent yearonyear, the NBS said.

The slowdown in the housing market has already affected downstream industries such as cement, iron and steel.

Analysts said tight mortgage conditions are constraining the market. Banks have been raising mortgage rates for firsttime buyers or holding off on approvals amid tighter liquidity. Banks have also been reacting to their rising exposure to the property sector in 2013.

The weighted average mortgage interest rate hit 6.7 percent in March, up 0.17 percentage point from December. Nearly 90 percent of mortgages offered to first time buyers were at a premium of 5 to 10 percent above the PBOC's benchmark mortgage rates.

For example, the rate is 6.55 percent for five year loans or longer. The rising cost of capital and shrinking margins on mortgages have been discouraging banks from providing housing loans.

Some prospective buyers have been waiting "several months" for action on their mortgage applications, said Lu Zhengwei, chief economist at Industrial Bank Co Ltd.

"The central bank's newpolicy is targeted atmaking it easier for firsttime homebuyers to get loans, rather than stabilizing the property market, although it's good news for developers," Lu said.

"Instead of relaxing its policy on property development loans, the central bank chose a safer policy, which will help avoid the problem of building homes that do not sell."

Reuters contributed to this story.