Overcapacity in China

Yet another great report about China's economic crash ahead. The bit that worry me a lot is that more than 60 percent of investors surveyed by Bloomberg on Jan. 19 said they viewed China as a bubble. As a contrarian play, it looks like I might be wrong, since I'm agreeing with 60% of the investors.
Feb. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Jack Rodman, who has made a career of selling soured property loans from Los Angeles to Tokyo, sees a crash looming in China. He keeps a slide show on his computer of empty office buildings in Beijing, his home since 2002. The tally: 55, with another dozen candidates.

“I took these pictures to try to impress upon these people the massive amount of oversupply,” said Rodman, 63, president of Global Distressed Solutions LLC, which advises private equity and hedge funds on Chinese property and banking. Rodman figures about half of the city’s commercial space is vacant, more than was leased in Germany’s five biggest office markets in 2009.

Beijing’s office vacancy rate of 22.4 percent in the third quarter of last year was the ninth-highest of 103 markets tracked by CB Richard Ellis Group Inc., a real estate broker. Those figures don’t include many buildings about to open, such as the city’s tallest, the 6.6-billion yuan ($965 million) 74- story China World Tower 3.

Empty buildings are sprouting across China as companies with access to some of the $1.4 trillion in new loans last year build skyscrapers. Former Morgan Stanley chief Asia economist Andy Xie and hedge fund manager James Chanos say the country’s property market is in a bubble.

“There’s a monumental property bubble and fixed-asset investment bubble that China has underway right now,” Chanos said in a Jan. 25 Bloomberg Television interview. “And deflating that gently will be difficult at best.” [...]

A glut of factories in China is “wreaking far-reaching damage on the global economy,” stoking trade tensions and raising the risk of bad loans, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said in November.

More than 60 percent of investors surveyed by Bloomberg on Jan. 19 said they viewed China as a bubble, and three in 10 said it posed the greatest downside risk. The quarterly poll interviewed a random sample of 873 Bloomberg subscribers and had a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.

Digesting the debt from a popped property bubble may slash bank lending and drag growth lower for years in an economy that Nomura Holdings Inc., Japan’s biggest brokerage, says will provide more than a third of world growth in 2010.

The risks are so great that a decade of little or no growth, as Japan experienced in the 1990s, can’t be dismissed, said Patrick Chovanec, an associate professor in the School of Economics and Management at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, ranked China’s top university by the Times newspaper in London. [...]

“You have state-owned enterprises using borrowed funds from the stimulus bidding up the price of land -- not even desirable plots of land -- in Beijing to astronomical rates,” Chovanec said. “At the same time you have 30 percent-plus vacancy rates and slumping rents in commercial property so it’s just a case of when you recognize the losses -- or don’t.”

China’s lending surged to 1.39 trillion yuan in January, more than in the previous three months combined. Property prices in 70 cities climbed 9.5 percent from a year earlier, the most in 21 months.[...]

Chanos, founder of New York-based Kynikos Associates Ltd., predicted that China could be “Dubai times 100 or 1,000.” Real estate prices there have fallen almost 50 percent from their 2008 peak as the emirate struggles under at least $80 billion of debt. The economy may shrink 0.4 percent this year, Shuaa Capital, the biggest U.A.E. investment bank, says.

The commercial property space under construction in China at the end of November was the equivalent of 6,800 Burj Khalifas -- the 160-story Dubai skyscraper that’s the world’s tallest.

[...]  CB Richard Ellis doesn’t count empty office buildings bought by banks and insurance companies when calculating vacancy rates, since some of the space is for the owners’ use. The Los Angeles-based company said in a report that vacancy rates are starting to fall and rents to rise for the best office buildings as China’s fast economic growth buoys demand.

[...] “In many cases when you look at these buildings and say, that’s never going to be fully occupied, somehow 12 to 18 months later the building is full,” said Chris Brooke, CB Richard Ellis’s Beijing-based president and chief executive officer for Asia.

Overcapacity may be looming in manufacturing as well. China’s investments in new factories and properties surged 67 percent last year to 15.2 trillion yuan, more than Russia’s gross domestic product. Excess steel capacity may have reached about 132 million tons in 2009, more than the 87.5 million tons from Japan, the world’s second-biggest producer. The Beijing- based EU Chamber of Commerce report said a “looming deluge” of extra cement capacity is being built.

[...] “A lot of people will lose a lot of money, but the banks will probably not go down like in the 1990s,” Xie said in a phone interview. “Of course there will be a lot of bad debts. There will be a lot of mortgages gone bad I think.”

[...] “China is the only place in the world that despite having more empty buildings than the rest of the world has yet to reflect those valuations on their balance sheet,” Rodman said.

[...] The supply of office buildings will continue to grow. Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., a Chicago-based real-estate company, estimates that about 1.2 million square meters (12.9 million square feet) of office space in Beijing will come on line this year, adding to the total stock of 9.2 million square meters.

The city government is driving growth regardless of the market. [...] Across town, the district government is seeking to double the size of the city’s Central Business District, which already has the highest vacancy rate ever recorded in Beijing. It was 35 percent at the end of 2009, according to Jones Lang LaSalle.
AlJazeera report about this 1-million residents city completely empty (fast forward to about 1min20):

The world's largest shopping mall, in Guangzhou, China built in 2005 that now sits almost entirely empty (IPTV link, requires you to be located in the US).

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