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China Probes Foreign Investment in Real Estate

A survey has been initiated by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) in late December on foreign investment in China's real estate sector, sparking fears of new curbs to bring down the soaring housing prices.

An urgent notice was released by the SAIC's Registration of Foreign Invested Enterprises on its official web site to local branches, but no details were revealed.

Citing a well-informed source, the Shanghai Security News reported Monday that the survey was planned last November after the Ministry of Construction opened another research meeting on the implementation of existing policies restricting foreign investment into real estate market.

But sources with the SAIC's Shanghai and Beijing branches maintained that the move was to collect and compile national statistics for internal management.

The Registration of Foreign Invested Enterprises also declined to disclose the purpose and development of the survey.

As a package of policies have been mapped out last year to prevent the influx of foreign capital into the real estate market including a directive on the attraction foreign investment in 2007to strengthen the approval and supervision of direct foreign investment in real estate property.

In July 2006, China took a major stride to regulate its real estate market and stave off speculative investment by raising the ratio of registered capital in property developers' overall investment and restrictions on residential property purchases by foreign institutions and individuals,

Only foreign institutions establishing branches or representative offices in China and individuals working or studying in China for more than one year can purchase apartments for their own use.

Official figures from the National Bureau of Statistics however unveiled a rapidly expanding inflow of overseas capital into the sector shrouded by the risk of overheating.

Between January and November, real estate developing enterprises used US$53.9 billion of foreign capital including those from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao, a rise 71.9 percent from the same period of last year. Over the same period, just over 3,204 billion yuan (US$435.4 billion) flowed into the property sector from home and abroad, up 40.8 percent.

Industry insiders say that the governments may be making preparations for making further policies.

Despite tighter monetary policy marked by rises in lending rates six times last year amid efforts to curb investment growth and slow the economy, the real estate climate index still rose slightly in November to 106.59, up 0.85 points from October and up 2.67 points from last November.

But the government's focus stays with affordable housing for low-income households. In November, it urged local authorities to reserve at least 70 percent of the land designated for residential construction for low-rent units or smaller, cheaper homes.

The floor space of marketable, unsold buildings dropped 4.5 percent to 117.97 million square meters in November, which analyst say could be the result of developers building more affordable homes and fewer luxury properties.

(Xinhua News Agency January 8, 2008)

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