High land prices drive China property M&A spurt
Property developers in China spent more than $42bn on domestic mergers and acquisitions in 2016, as high land prices prompted large companies instead to swallow smaller rivals and snap up discounted existing projects.
A government push for state mergers added further fuel to property sector deals, which hit an all-time high last year — up 32 per cent in value from 2015, according to Wind Information, a Chinese financial data provider.
Analysts expect the trend to carry on in 2017 as land prices continue to climb in first- and second-tier mainland cities.
“There is a lot of competition for land right now in the open land auction market,” said Van Liu, a Shenzhen-based analyst at Guotai Junan Securities. “But there are lots of opportunities for [corporate] acquisitions coming up now and those prices will look more attractive to buyers.”
Residential land prices in China’s three largest cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou rose by an average of about 3 per cent between July and September from the quarter before, according to the latest available data from the Ministry of Land and Resources.
However, the rise in prices in the same cities for newly built homes slowed to 0.1 per cent in November from the month before, according to the National Statistics Bureau. Price growth has slowed sharply from highs of 3-4 per cent earlier in the year as regulators put in place controls to make it more difficult tom buy second homes.
The higher cost of land but softening sales prices for homes pushed an increasing number of smaller companies to exit the market last year.
In one of the largest deals of the year, Legend Holdings, the investment manager and owner of Lenovo computers, sold all of its property development assets for $2.1bn to Sunac China in September.
“It’s too expensive for them to expand their businesses so they are quitting the market,” David Yang, a Shanghai-based analyst at UOB Kay Hian, said of companies with smaller property developments. “We think this trend will continue in 2017.”
State-backed groups brokered some of the biggest property transactions in 2016. In the largest domestic property deal to date, state-run conglomerate Citic Ltd sold nearly $5bn in property assets to China Overseas Land & Investment. The deal was flagged at the time as a bellwether for government-backed deals in the future.
With smaller property companies often laden with external debt as a result of China’s cooling housing market, said Mr Yang, M&A typically has not been the first choice for developers. But better terms of onshore financing for some of the larger, well-connected property companies has helped encourage more takeovers.
“目前公开土地拍卖市场上存在激烈竞争，”国泰君安证券(Guotai Junan Securities)驻深圳分析师刘斐凡(Van Liu)说。“但是，现在出现很多（企业）收购的机会，在买家看来，买地不如买企业。”
根据中国国土资源部(Ministry of Land and Resources)的最新数据，今年第三季度，中国三个最大城市北京、上海和广州的住宅土地价格环比平均上涨约3%。
去年9月，投资集团、联想电脑的所有人联想控股(Legend Holdings)将其所有房地产开发资产以21亿美元出售给融创中国(Sunac China)，成为去年房地产行业规模最大的交易之一。
“对它们而言，扩张业务的成本太高了，所以它们在退出市场，”大华继显(UOB Kay Hian)驻上海分析师David Yang说。“我们认为，这一趋势将在2017年继续下去。”
2016年，政府支持的集团完成了一些最大的房地产交易。国营企业中信股份(Citic Ltd)向中国海外发展有限公司(China Overseas Land & Investment)出售了近50亿美元的房地产资产，是中国内地迄今最大的一宗房地产交易。该交易在当时被视为政府支持交易的未来风向标。