Interview with Zhang Xin, CEO of SOHO China
What is your overall approach to the real estate market today?
Basically – other than Qianmen [Street] in Beijing, which is the only project we decided to hold long term, our strategy for today is to sell everything we have. The real estate business should really be looking at rental yield; build a building and then lease it out with the rent giving a decent return. But, because of where China is with asset bubbles, people want to buy the assets regardless of whether they can be leased out or not. People just want to hold [property], even if it is empty.
Prices are too high, rent is too low, so if you hold property in order to get yield you are likely to get very little. For us it makes no sense to hold property, so our strategy is to sell everything. We see ourselves very much as a manufacturer. We buy land, we build, and then we sell. And the asset bubble has compelled us to be even more of a manufacturer.
When do you think the bubble will burst?
I don’t know. We don’t really have a view on when it will end; [but] we do have a view that this is a bubble. Real estate is very much driven by government policy. This year we have RMB 4 trillion through the stimulus package, another RMB 6 trillion from municipality bonds, another RMB 10 trillion from bank loans: We have RMB 20 trillion in the system and it all finds its way to real estate. If the government next year decides to continue the relaxed monetary policy the market will continue like this, regardless of whether this is a wasteful investment or not – people will still buy and we will still be building and selling.
These buildings are not fully occupied and people should be worried about it. I am sure the government is worried about it, but what do you do, they want the stimulus and if you want to create jobs then this is a by-product. There are a lot of dilemmas in this area – it is not a black and white easy decision.
What is your time period for selling properties?
As soon as possible. We came in [for the Exchange] when it was 30% full and now it’s selling out very quickly. I think in the next few months it is all going to be sold out. People want to buy. It has already reached 50% occupancy.[Beijing’s] CBD has 35% vacancy but our buildings are all over 95% occupied because we push all these Chinese companies to come in. [Normally] if you go to Guomao as a small Chinese company there is no chance they will lease it to you, they won’t even talk to you.
Source: China International Business