Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Sep 22, 2021

How Will China Manage the Housing Downturn?

With Chetan Ahya and Robin Xing


Chetan Ahya: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market, I'm Chetan Ahya, Chief Asia Economist for Morgan Stanley,

Robin Xing: And I'm Robin Xing, Morgan Stanley's Chief China Economist.

Chetan Ahya: And on this special edition of the podcast, we'll be diving into the path forward for China's economy amid challenges in the property sector. It's Wednesday, September 22nd, at 7:30 a.m. in Hong Kong.

Chetan Ahya: So, Robin, as many listeners likely read earlier this week, China's property market is the subject of a lot of market and media focus right now. Near-term funding pressures for some of China's property developers have led to volatility as markets weigh concerns on any ripple effect into China's economy or even the global economy. To put funding pressures in context, in dollar terms, cumulative default in China's high-yield property names this year are already higher than that combined between 2009 and 2020. Robin, I want to get into your base case for China's economy as policymakers manage the property sector outcome. But to understand the backdrop for listeners, maybe it's worthwhile to take a step back to understand China's regulatory reset and the impact it's had on the housing market.

Robin Xing: Sure. So what we call China's regulatory reset is China's ongoing shift in governance priorities, which policymakers drafted last year. And it covers a number of areas, including technology, education, carbon emission, but also property developers in an effort to address the financial stability risks. So the property-related financing has actually been tightening since summer 2020. You know, first with new financing rules for real estate companies--what's called the 'three red lines'--which put a leverage cap on developers, then a cap on property, long exposure for banks, and lately, very strict mortgage approval for homebuyers. In this environment, highly leveraged developers are more prone to refinancing risks. And now the question is, will there be more credit events to come? Going forward, tighter financing conditions may stay for developers, which could increase the risk of credit events.

Robin Xing: So, Chetan, you have being a close watcher for China's debt and the deleveraging dynamics since 2015. First, with its industrial sectors, then it's local government. Then we fast forward to today's housing market. Now, just to gauge how much deleveraging developers still have to undergo, how are we tracking on the three red lines as laid out by regulators? As I recall, developers are required to attain the 'green category,' meeting all three requirements by end of the first half 2023.

Chetan Ahya: Yeah, thanks, Robin. So, look, I think, first of all, just to appreciate the way China manages its debt challenges as it ensures that the process is taken up in an organized manner and that there are no uncontrolled defaults, which can have ramifications on the financial system as well as overall financial conditions. And property sector is no different. And on that front, our property analyst has been highlighting that out of 26 developers that we cover, only one developer still fails to meet all the three red lines and nine developers have already passed two of those red lines. The remaining 16 developers have already met all the three requirements, and most developers do target to attain green category by the end of next year.  Currently the total debt exposure to property developers is around Rmb18.4trn, which is similar to the annual sales of the property companies, so we think the deleveraging pressure seems manageable.

Having said that, Robin, when you think about the importance of the property sector to the economy, it's quite a significant sector. Property and property related sectors account for 15% of GDP. So if there is a problem and a developer faces a challenge in meeting its debt obligations, do you think that China can manage the ramifications?

Robin Xing: Yes, we do think regulators already have a playbook based on past default cases, which included the property developers. That said, the timing of deployment is what may matter most. Potentially, Beijing's first goal would be to maintain normal operations of construction projects so default happens at the holding company level and not at the project level, which could reduce spill over to the physical property market. The second goal would be to go for voluntary debt restructuring and avoid a liquidation scenario which could substantially increase the recovery rate, though both of these actions would require coordination across authorities, creditors, and the company in this scenario.

We expect the property sales and the investment in China to slow and the new starts would remain weak for the remainder of the year. However, it would not be a very fast and sharp deterioration because current inventory levels for the housing market are low, with around eight months for the major tier-one/tier-two cities. So it's much lower than previous downturns. So the overhang on housing new starts should be much smaller. All in all, in this swift intervention and policy easing scenario, we see China's GDP to rebound modestly from the 4.7% in the third quarter in two-year CAGR terms to slightly above 5% in the fourth quarter.

Chetan AhyaL So, Robin, when you think of the developments in the property market right now, in the context of the fact that the government has also been taking additional regulatory measures which have been weighing on the private business sentiment, do you think that the government can take up easing measures to ensure that this does not have a meaningful impact on the growth outlook?

Robin Xing: Yes, your concerns are very legitimate. Given the importance of the property sector to China's economy, Beijing may decide to take action sooner rather than later in order to support the economy. In our base case, we are near an inflection point of policy easing. That would be led by faster fiscal spending to support infrastructure investment from September to December, complemented by another 50 basis point reserve requirement ratio cut by the People's Bank of China probably in mid to late October. We also see some easing in mortgage quotas in the fourth quarter. This altogether should drive a modest rebound in broad credit growth in the fourth quarter, marking the end of a 10-month credit growth downturn. What's more, this momentum can be amplified in early next year when the fiscal spending and the credit quota could be front loaded.

Chetan Ahya: So, Robin, if I were to summarize, essentially what we are talking about is two sets of policy actions to be taken up by the government. First, to ensure that the debt restructuring is taken up in an organized and timely manner. And second is that to the extent to which there will be some negative impact on business sentiment, we're expecting the government to implement policy easing measures.  However, if the government were to delay these supportive measures, what will be the implications on your growth forecast?

Robin Xing: That's certainly a scenario we hope to avoid. So basically should policy makers fail to take actions in time to manage this restructuring and contain its spillover effect, we could see a rise in liquidity pressures on many more developers as banks cut credit lines and home buyer sentiment cools down. In this case, the fourth quarter growth could fall below 4%, far lower than the annual growth target, which was 6% for this year and probably around 5.5% for next year. In short, such delayed action, more spillover scenario would likely warrant a much bigger stimulus earlier 2022 to meet the growth target to stabilize the job market.

Chetan Ahya: Robin, thank you for taking the time.

Robin Xing: It's been great speaking with you.

Chetan Ahya: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or a colleague today. 

On this special episode, we address key questions around struggles in China's property sector, as well as any potential spillover into the broader economy.

Thoughts on the Market is also available as a podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and other major podcast platforms. In addition, the most recent episode is available on Amazon's Alexa. Just ask Alexa to "Enable Morgan Stanley" or to "Add Morgan Stanley to my Flash Briefing."

For more about our Alexa skill, visit

For more Ideas, visit