Many people lose a house in their divorce. But in China you can gain one.
China's central bank has taken the unusual step of cracking down on sham divorces in Beijing. The People's Bank of China issued a statement at the end of last week that people who have been divorced for less than a year cannot qualify as first-time home buyers. Banks should therefore not extend loans under those favorable terms, the bank said.
Stories abound in the local media of couples who deliberately divorced so that they can purchase a second home. Most remarry each other -- although the plan has at times backfired and led to a "real" divorce.
"Recently there have been more households that use divorces to enjoy first-home mortgage policies," the People's Bank of China's Beijing office said on its website. "This has not only affected policy effectiveness, but will also lead to problems such as financial disputes and add to credit risks borne by commercial banks."
Land prices have soared so quickly in China, particularly in its biggest cities, that the ruling Communist Party is worried they will cause social destabilization. The national, provincial and city-level governments have therefore brought in various measures to slow the upward trajectory.
Mizuho identifies China Resources Land (CRBJY) as its top pick in the Chinese property sector. The investment bank believes the developer can maintain high profit margins better than most. Its investment property is showing rental growth of 20.7% in Chinese yuan, although thanks to the depreciating currency that's reduced to 14% in Hong Kong dollar - and therefore U.S. dollar -- terms.
Last month, Mizuho said it is also watching "unpopular" names such as Agile Property Holdings (AGPYY) and Guangzhou R&F Properties (GZUHY) , which may have higher appreciation potential than the bulk of the industry.
The government in Shanghai has reportedly introduced a similar measure as Beijing. But the Shanghai ban applies only to people who have been divorced within the last six months.
Annualized price gains were running well above 35% for China's biggest cities. But after the introduction of cooling measures, the pace has slowed to "only" 23% in Guangzhou, around 20% in Shanghai and Beijing, and 13% in the southern boom town of Shenzhen.
Westpac Institutional Bank analyst Elliot Clarke said he expects further slowing in those Tier 1 cities over the coming months. Tier 2 cities are now averaging 11% growth in prices, year on year, with Tier 3 cities ticking higher at around 9% per year. Clarke expects many cities in those categories to "materially outperform."
Commerzbank said last month that it believes China's property prices have peaked, and that a broad property slowdown is "looming on the horizon."
Beijing has been particularly draconian when it comes to its restrictions on property purchases. It had already raised the downpayment on second homes to as much as 80%. First-time homebuyers, though, need only put down 35% of the purchase price.
Beijing's measures also clarified that a "first-time" home buyer means somebody who has never had a mortgage in their name. Some banks had interpreted the term to mean that the buyer must not have an existing mortgage.
The central bank also now requires banks to ensure that a borrower's monthly mortgage payment does not amount to more than half their monthly income. Banks are required to scrutinize the source of funds more carefully and ban leveraged financial products as the underlying backing.
At the same time that the PBOC laid down the law, Beijing's land authority also banned what it called "abnormally shaped" residential space, be it extremely small rooms, passageways or garages.
The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Land and Resources said that such spaces "don't serve practical living functions" in a post on China Weibo, the mainland equivalent of Twitter.
Since school enrollment is based on the location of a student's home, parents had apparently been abusing the system by purchasing tiny "homes" in the district of their choice that in fact served little purpose.
(This column originally appeared at 8 a.m. ET on Real Money, our premium site for active traders. Click here to get great columns like this from Jim Cramer and other writers even earlier in the trading day.)
At the time of publication, Alex McMillan had no positions in the stocks mentioned.