SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) - China has lifted a ban on equity financing for listed property developers for the first time in four years, a step that could herald less government intervention in the sector and ease funding concerns as credit grows tight and the economy slows.
Two Chinese property developers said on Thursday they have received regulatory approvals to make private placements of shares, paving the way for more real estate firms to raise funds through the stock market for the first time since 2010.
Small-sized Chinese developers Tianjin Tianbao Infrastructure Co. and Join.In Holding Co., got the go-ahead to sell yuan-denominated A shares in private placements, according to separate statements to Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges.
The approvals come amid growing fears of defaults in the property sector after the collapse of Zhejiang Xingrun Real Estate, and will pave the way for more developers to raise capital to alleviate crash crunches.
Some analysts welcomed the move as an indication that the government is finally ready to scale back some of its intervention in the property market.
"This is positive," said Zhu Yiming, a property analyst at CRIC, a unit of real estate services firm E-House China in Shanghai.
"It shows the government is relying more on increasing home supply to control the market."
From outright bans on multiple home purchases to ordering banks to raise mortgage rates and banning some Chinese from buying houses outside their places of birth, China's government has won both supporters and critics in its four-year battle to cool surging home prices.
Supporters say Beijing is doing what is needed to cool an otherwise uncontrollable market, while critics oppose the heavy government interference.
The money raised by Tianjin Tianbao would be invested in residential homes in Tianjin while Join.In would invest in a commercial and residential project in Xuzhou in the eastern Anhui province, the companies said last year.
China stopped developers from raising money by selling shares in April 2010 on concerns that surging home prices were inflating an asset bubble.
The Shanghai Securities News reported on Thursday that more than 30 listed property firms have submitted proposals to raise a total of 90 billion yuan since the second-half of last year.
Analysts expect the regulator would approve more refinancing plans of developers this year to quench developers' thirst for funds at a time when anecdotal evidence suggests banks are turning more cautious in making new loans.
After several years of rapid growth, China's property market is starting to show signs of cooling as local governments tightened controls to stamp out speculative buying, and as banks made it harder for home buyers to get loans.
A mild cooling in the market could be welcomed by the government. An abrupt slowdown, however, could add to concerns about bad debts and further weigh on the world's second-largest economy, which slowed markedly in the first two months of the year.
A rising number of experts and developers are no longer optimistic, with some even contemplating downside risks in smaller cities - a notion unheard of just three years ago when prices hit new record highs every other month.
Government officials told Reuters on Tuesday that Zhejiang Xingrun Real Estate Co, based in the coastal city of Ningbo in Zhejiang province, is on the brink of bankruptcy.
State media have estimated the company owes 15 domestic banks 2.4 billion yuan and individual investors another 1.1 billion, with only 3 billion yuan of assets on hand.
News of the expected bankruptcy came amid growing concerns about debt in China following the country's first domestic bond default earlier this month.
Official data showed Chinese home inflation slowed for a second straight month in February, due to government policy curbs and declining domestic demand. Some markets saw outright price declines, in particular in the Zhejiang city of Wenzhou.
(Reporting by Fayen Wong, Xiaoyi Shao and Koh Gui Qing; Editing by Eric Meijer & Kim Coghill)