China’s banks face mortgage losses of $350 billion in a worst-case scenario as confidence plunges in the nation’s property market and authorities struggle to contain deepening turmoil.

A spiraling property crisis of stalled projects has dented the confidence of hundreds of thousands of homebuyers, triggering a mortgage boycott across more than 90 cities and warnings of broader systemic risks. The big question now is not if, but how much it will batter the nation’s $56 trillion banking system.

Property Crisis And Mortgage Boycotts

Property Crisis
Credit: The Star

In a worst-case scenario, S&P Global Ratings estimated that 2.4 trillion yuan ($356 billion), or 6.4% of mortgages, are at risk while Deutsche Bank AG is warning that at least 7% of home loans are in danger. So far, listed banks have reported just 2.1 billion yuan in delinquent mortgages as directly affected by the boycotts.

“Banks are caught in the middle,” said Zhiwu Chen, a professor of finance at the University of Hong Kong Business School. “If they don’t help the developers finish the projects, they would end up losing much more. If they do, that of course would make the government happy, but they add more to their exposure to delayed real estate projects.”

Beijing Strives to Stabilize Property Crisis

Property Crisis
Credit: The Star

Already rattled by headwinds from slowing economic growth, Covid disruptions and record high youth unemployment, Beijing is placing financial and social stability at the top of its priorities. Efforts that have been contemplated so far included a grace period on mortgage payments and a central bank-backed fund to lend financial support to developers. Either way, banks are expected to play an active role in a concerted state bailout.

The exposure of Chinese banks to the property sector tops that of any other industry. There were 39 trillion yuan of outstanding mortgages and another 13 trillion yuan of loans to developers at the end of March, according to data from the People’s Bank of China.

Property Crisis Must be Kept in Check

The real estate market is “the ultimate foundation” for financial stability in China, Teneo Holdings managing director Gabriel Wildau said in a note this month.

As authorities move to keep risks in check, lenders with high exposure could come under greater scrutiny. Mortgages accounted for about 34% of total loans at Postal Savings Bank of China Co. and China Construction Bank Corp. at the end of 2021, above a regulatory cap of 32.5% for the biggest banks.

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