Tuesday, July 6, 2010

China's Real Estate: Bubble? What Bubble?

A real estate agent in Shanghai selling luxury high-rise apartments is puzzled at the question by the BBC Business Daily's interviewer: "Is this a bubble?"

"Bubble? People are more cautious these days, but no, it's not a bubble. 80% of the buyers are the "end users" (not speculators). A 320 square meter apartment sells for US$4.5 million. We have USD$30,000 bathtub in the master bedroom. This is what the discerning buyers (top 5% of population) expect nowadays..." (I'm paraphrasing.)

The average wage of urban workers in China was about $5000 per year in 2007. The wage gap between the workers, though, have grown rapidly in recent years. Within the same company, the gap can be between 10 to 100 times (and that's from an article in 2007!) - an average worker of the company may be getting $5000 a year, but a middle manager may be getting $125,000 a year.

There are 477,000 millionaires in China (that's the world's 4th after the US, Japan, and Germany), politically still a Communist country.

You can listen to the entire program here. (Total 18 minutes. Shanghai real estate is after 7 minutes into the program.)

The last segment of the report is about London real estate. London's high-end real estate (over US$3 million) is booming again because of foreign investors (Russians, Indians, and Greeks, whose investment doubled in recent weeks) looking for a place to park their money in relative safety. (Besides, British Pound got cheaper.)

At the height of the real estate bubble in Japan, office ladies were eating tiny pieces of cake with pure gold flakes on top with their afternoon tea. $30,000 bathtub seems very close to being a signal of the real estate market top in China.

If a real estate professional in Shanghai is confident he can sell a $4.5 million apartment, good for him, but it is a bubble; the question is how much bigger can it still get before the inevitable collapse, and how long will it take?


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