Chinese cities’ moves to ease residency curbs fuel property demand

Fog blankets Jincheng City skyline in north China's Shanxi province, in this March 2, 2007 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 January 2018
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Chinese cities’ moves to ease residency curbs fuel property demand

BEIJING: China’s provincial capitals have discovered a way to keep apartment sales booming by making it much easier for graduates to get coveted household registration permits.
Authorities in the cities said the main aim is to lure talent to make their labor pools more attractive to companies. But the policies are undermining the authorities’ efforts to control property speculation and are artificially propping up prices, critics in the real estate and securities industries said.
The permits, known as hukou, have been used to control internal migration in China for many years. Without a permit, a resident of a city may not be able to get a whole slew of public services, including education and health care, and would sometimes have to live on the margins of society.
Now, cities such as Chengdu — the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China — are reversing the process by handing out hukou to college-degree holders. In Chengdu’s case that is anyone under the age of 45.
Not only that. They are in some cases providing these graduates with cash incentives if they buy an apartment.
For example, any post-doctoral degree-holder who takes up hukou in central China’s Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, will be handed 100,000 yuan ($15,617) for a first home purchase. For college-degree holders the incentive is 20,000 yuan.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have been able to buy properties that were otherwise off limits for them.
Take 27-year-old graduate Peter Li, who faced barriers to buying in Chengdu last year because he was from the northwestern province of Gansu.
Then in July the new policy was introduced, and he bought a three-bedroom apartment in the upscale high-tech zone of the city.
“Getting a hukou through the talent policy was a more convenient way to get around the housing curbs,” said Li, who moved to Chengdu, which has 17 million people, to work as a product manager in 2016.
By mid January — just over five months after the change — more than 120,000 people had been able to get a Chengdu hukou through the new policy, said Chengdu’s official Talent Work Leadership office.
And Chengdu’s resale market soared. The number of sales registered with the housing bureau, which could lag real-time transactions by up to two months, have climbed to 8,798 in December, up 40 percent from July’s 6,252, data from Chengdu property net showed. The local real estate portal said it tracks data published daily by the Chengdu housing bureau.
Average prices in some prime locations had risen to about 16,000 yuan ($2,498) per square meter in December, up about 30 percent from their levels in July, according to data from property realtors, including Fang.com.
At least 10 other provincial capitals have also loosened their hukou rules, and some have offered incentives.
In such cities the changes have effectively weakened existing curbs brought in over the past year to tame speculation. That has prevented price falls and in some cases helped to trigger significant price increases, according to property agents and analysts.
“It’s a disguised way for the government to relax the curbs,” said a Chengdu-based agent at Lianjia, a large Chinese real estate agency, declining to be named as she was not authorized to speak to the media.
Traditionally, China’s four top-tier cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, have been the most sought-after destinations for young and educated migrants seeking higher pay and better opportunities.
By contrast, less developed tier-2 provincial capitals have mainly been a magnet for people from smaller cities within the province.
While hefty living costs, soaring property prices and pollution have seen some reverse in flow from top-tier cities to provincial capitals, the wages gap is a big turn-off.
Chengdu’s average white-collar salaries in the third quarter last year came in at 6,910 yuan ($1,079) per month, about 43 percent less than the figure in Beijing, according to Zhaopin.com, one of China’s biggest recruitment portals.
Six property agencies in Chengdu surveyed by Reuters estimated between 50 percent to 70 percent of their sales have been made off newly minted Chengdu hukou holders in recent months.
The impact is gradually being felt at the national level. Official data on Thursday showed China’s new home prices accelerated to a five-month high in December, with property prices in tier-2 cities recording the strongest price growth.
The Chengdu government said it did not set the bar excessively low for outsiders, stressing the importance of attracting talent.
The city will “continue to satisfy the needs of first-time home buyers and their rigid demand, and those who want to improve their housing conditions, while cracking down on speculation,” the government said.
Home buyers are still subject to existing tightening measures such as having to hold on to their properties for at least three years before selling.
China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO), which doubles as the Communist Party’s communications arm, said the moves undertaken by the tier-2 cities would only increase the size of qualified home buyers “by a small scale.”
Such demand — seen as the opposite of speculative forces — is in line with the view from China’s top leaders that “homes are meant for living, not for speculation,” it said.
SCIO applauded the cities’ “effectiveness and timeliness” in expanding their respective talent pools as the country strives for more balanced and higher quality growth, especially in its less prosperous hinterland.
Still, there is concern that the strategy will end up being counterproductive by fueling price rises, which in turn could make apartments too expensive for many people born and bred in these cities, building resentment against the city’s government and the newcomers allowed hukou.
— REUTERS


Saudi Arabia aims to achieve e-payment target of 70%

Updated 22 February 2019
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Saudi Arabia aims to achieve e-payment target of 70%

  • Reform plan seeks cashless society
  • E-payments could exceed $22bn in next four years

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia wants to achieve an e-payment target of 70 percent by 2030, a banking official told Arab News on Thursday, as the country moves toward becoming a cashless society.

Talat Hafiz, from the Media and Banking Awareness Committee for Saudi Banks, said online or cashless transactions were part of the Vision 2030 reform plan.

The Financial Sector Development Program (FSDP) was one of the initiatives to support the economic growth goals of Vision 2030, he added.

“Basically it is to transfer Saudi society from being heavily cash dependent in buying goods and services to a cashless society using digital and electronic payment,” he told Arab News. “One of the FSDP’s main targets is to increase and improve the percentage of non-cash utilization, from 18 percent in 2016 to 28 percent in 2020. However, the goal will increase of course with the target to 70 percent by 2030.”

Hafiz, in an Arab News column published earlier this month, said the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) had been encouraging electronic payments and settlements in order to reduce the reliance on cash.

SAMA had introduced a number of e-payment systems in the last two decades to help consumers and institutions, he wrote, such as the Saudi Arabian Riyal Interbank Express and the online bill payment portal SADAD.

Earlier this week Apple Pay was launched in the Kingdom, joining the cashless roster of payment methods available to Saudi consumers.

A cashback service operated by credit card companies, where a percentage of the amount spent is paid back to the cardholder, was introduced last year in Saudi Arabia.

An illustration of how direct debit works, courtesy of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA).

“All of these efforts collectively from the SAMA side are to reach the ambitious goal of the FSDP.”

Hafiz explained that e-payments saved time and effort and allowed people to access service and goods around-the-clock. 

“This is basically why SAMA is very active and now we see SAMA and the National Payment System are responsible and leading (the country) toward a cashless society by achieving the target set by 2030.”

Last February the Amazon-owned Payfort online payments service registered a new company in Saudi Arabia.

According to the “Payfort State of Payments 2017” report, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the fastest growing markets in the region for electronic payments.

The report estimates that Saudi Arabia conducted $8.3 billion of payment transactions in 2016, showing 27 percent year-on-year growth.

E-payments in the Kingdom are expected to double over the next four years to reach more than $22 billion, the report added.