China March property investment slows, sales strong

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's real estate investment growth slowed in the first quarter, dragging down the broad economic recovery, though property sales remained strong, pushing up home prices and prompting policymakers to tighten property policies.

Real estate investment, which was worth 11 percent of GDP in first quarter of 2013 and directly impacts around 40 other business sectors, rose 20.2 percent in the first three months of 2013 from a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday.

That was slower than an annual increase of 22.8 percent in January-February.

Revenues from property sales in March rose 46.5 percent from a year earlier, marking the second highest monthly gain since July 2011, though cooling from annual growth of 77.6 percent in the first two months, according to Reuters calculations based on official data.

Strong property sales, alongside with rising home prices, have sparked concerns that home costs could start to spiral out of control and have forced the government to launch a fresh round of measures last month to try to cool them.

Some economists are worried that the new tighter property policies could drag down the overall economy, which grew 7.7 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, slowing from the 7.9 percent pace set in the final quarter of last year.

"The slowing property investment has some effect on dragging down the broader economic growth, especially when the government has already taken tightening measures to cool this sector," said Li Huiyong, economist at Shenyin & Wanguo Securities in Shanghai.

China's central government said on March 1 that it planned to introduce a 20 percent capital gains tax and higher down payments and mortgage rates for second-time home buyers in cities where prices were deemed to be rising too fast.

China's major cities have unveiled strict property controls, including Beijing raising minimum down payments on second home purchases to 70 percent of valuation from 60 percent.

Analysts say the revival in home sales might be short-lived after local governments unveiled detailed plans for implementing new curbs as home buyers rush to finalise deals to avoid the new capital gain tax.

China's home prices have seen a gentle upswing since around the middle of last year when the central bank began to expand monetary easing as part of Beijing's growth-supporting policies.

Average new home prices in 70 major cities climbed 2.1 percent year on year in February despite the government having tried to calm the house market over the last three years.

(Reporting By Xiaoyi Shao; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)