【英语中国】中国商业地产更堪忧 China’s shopping mall builders have reasons to worry

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2014-7-1 06:51

小艾摘要: The last place in China you would expect to find an oversupply of property is between the beautiful lake city of Hangzhou and the country’s commercial heart of Shanghai, a 170km stretch that high-spe ...
China’s shopping mall builders have reasons to worry
The last place in China you would expect to find an oversupply of property is between the beautiful lake city of Hangzhou and the country’s commercial heart of Shanghai, a 170km stretch that high-speed trains cover in just over an hour. Today, in addition to its reputation as a tourist draw, Hangzhou is known as the home of Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, the internet group likely to go public soon in the biggest tech listing ever.

Property and Alibaba are not as unrelated as one might think.

Concern over falling prices in the property market has so far focused on housing. This is partly because of the social and political tightrope that the residential market represents for Beijing. If prices rise too swiftly, the have-nots may riot in the street. If prices fall too steeply, the haves will protest over lost wealth.

Meanwhile, industries that battened on demand for building materials including cement, glass and steel are reeling at falling demand for their output, while the government is trying to force banks to record more problem loans, both direct and indirect, given the widespread use of property as collateral for borrowed money.

Despite the attention given to housing, commercial property may register an even more dramatic fall in prices, particularly since it hasn’t been fully factored in to the economic equation. Mr Ma is one part of the explanation.

Alibaba is the biggest ecommerce company in China. Moreover, it is only now that the implications of ecommerce across a variety of sectors are beginning to become apparent. The country has 620m mobile internet users, according to data from ANZ bank, or almost half of its citizens. In the first four months of the year, ecommerce transactions were up more than 50 per cent.

Investors, including senior executives at Blackstone’s property arm and at Colony Capital, are pondering the ramifications of the power of ecommerce on the mainland. They have concluded that demand for the shopping malls on drawing boards today is likely to be smaller than their original calculations. Blackstone executives say they are already seeing a divergence. Shopping malls that offer primarily retail outlets are seeing their business start to fall off as customers shop more online. But malls that offer experiences and services, whether food or entertainment, are flourishing. Blackstone is retooling its retail investments accordingly.

Still, retail is just one part of a much larger metamorphosis. The internet is also likely to transform financial services. Banks will no longer need thousands of branches, for instance. Education, too, will have less demand for space. While first-rate universities will always attract the smart and ambitious to campuses, the rest will be forced to gravitate more online.

To be sure, there are sectors that will be the beneficiaries of these changing patterns. Companies such as JD.com, an ecommerce venture that went public in the US a few weeks ago, will evolve in different ways than their US role models, precisely because they have less legacy infrastructure. JD, for example, is an etailer like Amazon – but it is also a delivery service like UPS or DHL so it has greater need for logistics centres and warehouses. That is why Blackstone and Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board love investing in warehouses (at least until drones make them less relevant).

Of course, demand does not always evolve as expected. Twenty years ago, when the big upscale Japanese department stores opened in Shanghai, sceptics scoffed that anyone rich enough to patronise them would have the means to go to Hong Kong where prices were much lower. The sceptics were partly right. But wealthy Shanghainese were only a small part of the clientele. The bulk of business came from people visiting the city from local areas who resold the goods (at a mark-up) to neighbours for whom Shanghai remained a distant dream. The internet makes such distinctions between the city and the countryside less meaningful.

Today, the extent to which property prices will be allowed to fall is partly a political question. The government will probably impose a floor, limiting how far the market will establish clearing prices for distressed assets. China needs affordable homes. That means that the victims of the fall in residential prices will be overstretched developers (consolidation is already starting to happen), banks that can afford to write off the loans (because the state stands behind them) and careless investors who bought wealth management products in the shadow banking market.

The government is not so concerned about commercial space. Those who built second-rate shopping malls in third-rate cities have less reason to expect the state to cushion them from a fall.

你绝料不到在美丽的湖泊城市杭州与中国商业心脏上海之间,还有一片房地产供应过剩的地方。这两座城市相距170公里,高铁车程只需一个多小时。如今的杭州除了享有旅游胜地的美誉外,还以阿里巴巴(Alibaba)创始人马云(Jack Ma)的故乡而闻名。这家互联网集团很快就要上市,有望打造科技行业史上规模最大的IPO。

地产和阿里巴巴之间并不像人们以为的那般毫无联系。

到目前为止,人们对房地产市场价格下跌的担忧主要集中在住房版块。部分是因为住宅市场对北京方面而言代表着一个社会和政治难题。如果房价上升过快,无房者或许会走上街头闹事。但如果房价陡降,有房者会因财富缩水而抗议。

与此同时,依靠建材市场需求而兴旺起来的水泥、玻璃和钢材等产业,正面临市场需求下降的困扰。而由于地产被广泛用作贷款抵押品,中国政府正试图迫使银行记录更多的不良贷款,包括直接贷款和间接贷款。

尽管人们的注意力集中在住宅方面,但更大幅度的价格下跌可能会出现在商业地产版块,尤其是因为它一直没有被完全计入经济方程之中。而马云便是个中原因之一。

首先,阿里巴巴是中国最大的电商企业。此外,电子商务在多个行业的影响到现在才开始变得明显。根据澳新银行(ANZ)的数据,中国有6.2亿移动互联网用户,几乎占人口总数的一半。在今年头4个月里,电子商务交易量上升超过50%。

投资者,包括黑石(Blackstone)旗下地产公司和柯罗尼资本(Colony Capital)的高管们,目前正在思考一个问题:电商的威力在中国内地会产生多大影响?他们已推断出,对拟建购物中心的需求很可能小于他们本来的估算。黑石的高管们表示已经看到了一种分化趋势。随着消费者更多地在网上购物,主要由零售店构成的购物中心正看着自己的生意开始下滑。而以提供食物或娱乐等体验和服务为主的购物中心,生意却蒸蒸日上。黑石正据此调整自己在零售业的投资。

不过零售业仅是一场巨变中的一部分。互联网还可能引发金融服务变革。例如,银行将不再需要开设数千家分行。教育也将不再需要占用那么多空间。一流大学还是能将聪明人和有志者吸引到校园中,而其余大学将只得大力发展在线教育。

的确,有些领域将从这种模式转变中受益。比如说,京东(JD.com)之类公司今后的发展道路将有别于它们所模仿学习的美国企业,因为它们的传统基础设施较少。比如几周前在美国上市的京东虽是一家与亚马逊(Amazon)相像的电子零售商,但也提供敦豪(DHL)或UPS式的快递服务,所以它对物流中心和仓库的需求较大。这就是黑石和加拿大养老金计划投资局(Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board)喜欢投资仓库的原因所在——至少在无人飞机快递普及以前。

当然,需求并不总朝着预期的方向发展。20年前,当多家日本高档大型百货商店在上海开业时,持怀疑态度的人嘲笑说,富到能光顾百货商店的人肯定有办法去香港购物,那儿的商品价格更便宜。怀疑者们的推测有几分道理。但上海富人只占商店顾客的一小部分。大部分生意来自到上海游玩的外地人,他们把商品加价后转卖给邻居——对后者而言,上海仍是一个遥远的梦。如今,互联网让都市与农村间的这种区别变得不再明显。

房地产价格的下降空间在一定程度上属于政治问题。中国政府多半会构筑一个底部,限制市场为不良资产确立清算价格的范围。中国需要价格让人们承受得起的住房。这就意味着,过度扩张的开发商(调整已经开始)、承担得起核销贷款后果的银行(因为背后有国家扶持),以及在影子银行市场草率购买理财产品的投资者等将会成为住宅价格下跌的牺牲品。

中国政府对商业地产市场则没有那么在意。那些在三线城市建造二流购物中心的开发商们,就更没有理由奢望国家给他们准备缓冲垫了。

译者/何黎

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