In some ways (but not all), China is even more exposed to the dangers of a real estate collapse than America was. Washington Post business reporter Jia Lynn Yang pointed out last fall that urban housing stock constituted 41 percent of Chinese household wealth of 2011. The number was 26 percent in the U.S. In other words, Chinese families tend to invest almost twice as much of their money in urban real estate than do American families. So, if you thought Americans were hit hard when that real estate suddenly lost value, it could be even worse for Chinese, who also tend to put much more of their earnings into long-term investments than do Americans. That said, it would also take a bigger drop in prices for the market to collapse, as Chinese buyers tend to put down larger down payments.
And here’s the really scary number: 13 percent of Chinese GDP in 2011 came from real estate investment. 13 percent! If that investment stalls abruptly, as it did in Phoenix Island, the rest of the Chinese economy could follow. That could cause political instability in China and, much more certainly, would set back the global economy.
“As long as the money supply keeps expanding aggressively (15%+ per year), and people (absent alternatives) are willing to plow that money into real estate and hold it, this [real estate market] can persist for some time,” Chovanec explains in an e-mail. “But when the flow of new money slows — either because of the need to rein in inflation, including housing inflation, or the need to roll over and refinance bad debt (often at rising rates of interest) — the whole thing begins to unravel.”More on Phoenix Island Collapse
Chinese manufacturers once snapped up its luxury apartments, but with profits falling as a result of the global downturn many owners need to offload properties urgently and raise cash to repay business loans, estate agents said.
Now apartments on Phoenix Island which reached the dizzying heights of 150,000 yuan per square metre ($2,200 per square foot) in 2010 are on offer for just 70,000 yuan, said Sun Zhe, a local estate agent.
"China had a lending boom... and so if people are using property as a place to stash their cash, they had more cash to stash," said Patrick Chanovec, a professor at Beijing's Tsinghua university.Surprise, it's only worth what someone can pay for it.
"At some point they want to get their money out, then you find out if there are really people who are willing to pay those high prices."