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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-02-2014, 10:00 PM Thread Starter
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Chinese Real Estate Imploding?

Interesting article about how real estate investors in China are putting their money into U.S. real estate:

What do you guys think?
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-03-2014, 01:12 AM
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Re: Chinese Real Estate Imploding?

I saw the title and thought..."hmmm, figuratively, or literally?"

Literally would have been more exciting
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-03-2014, 01:13 AM
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Re: Chinese Real Estate Imploding?

And, annoying as I have some money in Asian property funds
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-03-2014, 01:03 PM
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Re: Chinese Real Estate Imploding?

China pouring billions into the US real estate that a good thing? I'm not entirely sure...if you have US real estate and you're looking to sell then I guess it's a good thing but we've had a lot of foreign investment here in Vancouver real estate and all that did for us was inflate our house prices to a point where people who actually live here can't afford to buy a home and those of us who are home owners saw our property taxes go other words it didn't help the people who actually live and work here. my $.02
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-03-2014, 02:15 PM
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Re: Chinese Real Estate Imploding?

Originally Posted by jono View Post
I saw the title and thought..."hmmm, figuratively, or literally?"

Literally would have been more exciting
If the building standards are anything to go by in China, literally could be correct. I hope too many of your investments are not in the PRC, the issue there is corruption, it's not unknown for completely fake property booms to occur there. Usually for a boom you need demand to outstrip supply, liberal credit facilities etc.,

Well the issue is how China works as a system and how corruption is inevitable in such a system. As much as I think the markets deciding everything without oversight or intervention is extremely dangerous, governments deciding everything, (particularly local ones) are even more dangerous. The PRC is a series of fifedoms controlled by local high ranking party bosses, they answer to provincial bosses who in turn answer to Beijing.

Much like Hitler's Reich or Stalin's USSR they're all in competition with each other to please their overlords with the exception that instead of one dictator at the top there are 100s (actually the official name of the Chinese system means the People's Dictatorship when translated into English). So, the word goes out from Beijing that they want increased development in the provinces, immediately the local city bosses rush head long in a bid to outdo their neighbouring city in the hope of promotion to provincial or national politics. The motto is get it done and get it done quickly, suitability and sustainability do not factor. The land is cleared (often housing or farmland that people have owned or worked for generations), the owners are turfed out on the street with little or more often no compensation and if they protest too much they will be intimidated, beaten, jailed and if the local party boss is ruthless enough in some cases disappeared. The city is re-dedicated as a centre for (insert any current fad or business type be it industrial, IT etc.,) and marketed to foreign companies. Nice looking (horrendously built) apartment blocks are put up for the influx of professionals and the city sets about marketing itself internationally.

A quick example: I lived in a city called Beihai in southern China between 99 and 2000. Just after I arrived there it was designated a centre for shipping and IT. Apartment blocks sprang up like mushrooms and major IT firms from Europe were brought in to lay a communications system. There were more 5 star hotels and restaurant chains than you could shake a ****ty stick at. The city bosses started to build what can only be described as small fairytale (think the Disney logo) castles by the coast and everything was amazing. The apartment blocks all had tennis courts and pools. The local population were mostly poorish, but suddenly the place was awash with cash. When I first arrived it was a quaint little port city with a university nearby and lots of Portugese colonial architecture, by the time I moved on it glowed at night almost as much as Hong Kong or Taipei.

I went back to see old friends there in 05, I arrived at night, the city was dark, all the high rise apartment blocks were in darkness. There was one 5 star hotel left open called the Shangrila which despite being 5 years old looked like something from another era. I caught up with a friend whom everyone called Brother Tan first, I had taught his son English and he had opened lots of doors there for me (it has to be explained that though it never came up in conversation, Brother Tan was a gangster, he had the phone numbers of everyone who was anyone, drove a Bentley, but never seemed to own or run anything yet was filthy rich and wanted to set me up with a chain of English schools - I had more sense. However, he was like an uncle to me, the only foreigner living in the city and treated me like his own kids. So I liked the man, but kept a healthy distance from his social circle). I was astonished to see a place that looked worse than when I originally arrived, Brother Tan quickly explained over dinner how the scam had worked - the foreign contractors had paid bribes, the local building contractors had done the same and the city was too out of the way to be a hub for anything except fishing and some sea cargo from Vietnam. He had made his money from introductions and smoothing certain property issues out. Later he took me out to the beach lined with Disneyland castles built for the local party bosses, they were all empty and falling down, then I understood what was coming next. At some point very quickly after the infrastructure had been upgraded it became apparent that as all the foreign contractors had left that no one else was coming, billions had been pumped in from central and regional funds and hundreds of millions had been creamed off. The local party bosses and some of the local contractors were tried in secret in about 02 and then shot in the countryside.

What does that have to do with the current situation? Well to create a boomtown (if only the illusion of one) local bosses no longer need to ask for provincial or national funds, they can go directly to foreign investment companies with doctored reports and massaged figures. If it falls flat they're unlikely to catch a hollowpoint in the back of the skull either as they can blame those same investment companies for overheating the market. So the only ones taking the risk are the individual investors, the investment management company is usually well covered. The rule of law is secondary and only applied when the interests of powerful local bosses are at stake, the system is extremely xenophobic so no sleep is going to be lost over your pension/portfolio. Investing in property in such a system is a huge gamble, seriously, backing horses would be safer, but I hope you have a way of getting out now, China is not too far from being a spent force that's why they're rushing to colonise Africa financially so they can rinse, repeat and eventually turn African nations into the cheap labour factories for their increasing consumer market.

Sorry for the book...

Last edited by Laobi; 06-03-2014 at 07:10 PM. Reason: punctuation,Name change to protect the guilty
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-04-2014, 01:02 PM
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Re: Chinese Real Estate Imploding?

Oh man, huge subject, way more to be said than I have time to write. A few general points real quick though:

*International diversification, in ANY asset class but especially an illiquid one like real estate, makes sense, period. America also has a (comparatively) stable, robust market, and major metropolitan areas are kind of "marquee" properties where demand should be fairly stable in most economic environments. The fact that Chinese investors are buying real estate in American cities isn't something I'd worry all that much about in and of itself.

*Construction is clearly good for the economy, both in its immediate effects, but also in demand for raw materials, demand for transportation to move them to construction sites, etc etc. It's even better for the economy when it subsequently turns into new household formation, which usually results in added demand for furniture, household supplies, etc.

*Haven't read the article, but if there's any cause for concern with chinese real estate it's that the central bank/government/but I repeat myself is likely propping it up. There's a mismatch between properties being built (luxury condominiums) and properties demanded (middle class family-friendly housing), and accordingly there's a lot of property that's being built that's going unsold. Additionally bribing officials by giving them one of the choice units in a large multifamily unit as a kickback is evidently rather common, so there's also a growing glut of supply owned by the politically connected class that will have to be sold to be monitized. This is a problem, doubly so because much of this development is financed, so it in turn represents a potential book of bad loans for the chinese central bank, which would put the American mortgage crisis to shame in its scope.

*For now, the Chinese government/central bank is probably large enough/powerful enough to sustain this, in the interest of keeping flagging Chinese growth (which in and of itself isn't a bad thing - 8+% can't be sustained forever, so longterm China will need to recalibrate to a sustained 4% or so) high. However, what China really needs to do is embrace labor reform and allow people to move within "regions" of of the country and allow people living in the countryside to move to urban areas (and, in turn, allow people in the countryside to sell their property there; two things that they currently cannot).

Long story short - China needs to have some relatively "looks a lot like democracy from afar" reforms passed, to liberalize their marketplace. That's a risk for the ruling party, but it'll also significantly lower the odds of an abrupt market adjustment - colloquially known as a "crash."
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-04-2014, 01:35 PM
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Re: Chinese Real Estate Imploding?

Excellent and informative post, Laobi! Thanks!

And I agree with much of what you wrote Drew. I'm not worried about Chinese real estate investment here. It's the same as we saw from Japan in the 80's. Real estate is where its at - as long as you stay away from speculative bubbles I should add. But even bubbles have a positive economic effect on the way up.
And working in construction I can say we're VERY busy now! I'm not sure how much the east coast sees of Chinese action but I know of one MAJOR project in Miami that is Chinese.
In my opinion this kind of graft and corruption are the same Achilles heel as any planned economy with socialist meddling. Resources go where they're not truly needed under socialism (and in this kind of oligarch corruption in disguise as "socialism") and when reality sets in things go bad. It happened in the Soviet Union and it'll happen here.

It might sound like I'm wearing the tin foil hat but I've said for years there will be a major conflict in Asia; a major rebellion or shooting war of some sort. This kind of BS can only go on so long before the peasants get pissed off! Not to mention the battle over resources.
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-04-2014, 04:16 PM
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Re: Chinese Real Estate Imploding?

I'm less worried about the Chinese peasantry revolting against the communist party than I am about China intentionally or otherwise picking a fight with a major world party, either regionally (Japan being an obvious name) or not.

I'm not really sold on real estate as an investment in and of itself, but small allocations can be a great diversifier in a larger portfolio. The problem is to be able to invest in individual properties, be able to diversify within the asset class, and still be able to limit overall exposure to say 5-10%, you're talking like billion dollar portfolios.
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