New data show China’s real estate crash could be happening now



From Patrick Chovanec:

As a prelude to a broader analysis of China’s GDP, and the accuracy of its official GDP figures, I want to start by examining the national real estate statistics for the first four months of 2012. This discussion feeds into the broader GDP picture, but the property story that has been unfolding is important and interesting enough to be worth taking a close look at on its own.

Getting an accurate view of the property sector is complicated by the fact that neither the official price index, nor the Soufun price index, nor the average price/square meter that can be calculated from the investment numbers seem to track very well with each other or with point-of-sale impressions of steep developer discounts over the past eight months.

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Developers and local governments also enjoy a great deal of discretion in deciding what to count as a “start” or a “completion.” Monthly data releases are never revised, which often gives rise to huge corrections that are simply lumped into the end-year December data release, giving a distorted impression of how trends are unfolding (so, for instance, the 19% drop in property starts in December 2011 probably wasn’t as sudden as it appears, and more likely reflected an unreported decline spread over several preceding months).

All that being said, I’m seeing some rather striking patterns in the data that tell us two main things…

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