Bubble Proof: Chinese Maids Buying Houses

3 May

Unsure about the conflicting arguments in the ‘expert’ commentariat about whether China is in a massive real estate bubble?  Consider real-world anecdotes like those following, related by former Morgan Stanley chief economist and now independent Hong Kong-based economist Andy Xie, who has predicted that an overwhelming “get rich quick” mentality has doomed the Chinese economy.

From a must-read article in BusinessWeek:

“My maid just asked for leave,” a friend in Beijing told me recently. “She’s rushing home to buy property. I suggested she borrow 70 percent, so she could cap the loss.”

It wasn’t the first time I had heard such a story in China. Some friends in Shanghai have told me similar ones. It seems all the housemaids are rushing into the market at the same time.

There are benefits to housekeeping for fund managers. China’s housemaids may be Asia’s answer to the shoeshine boy whose stock tips prompted Joseph Kennedy to sell his shares before the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Another friend recently vacationed in the southern island- resort city of Sanya in Hainan province and felt compelled to visit a development sales office. Everyone she knew had bought there already. It’s either buy or be unsocial.

“You should buy two,” the sharp sales girl suggested. “In three years, the price will have doubled. You could sell one and get one free.”

How could anyone resist an offer like that?

The evidence in official-corruption cases no longer involves cash stashed in refrigerators or starlet mistresses in Versace clothing. The evidence is now apartments. One mid-level official in Shanghai was caught with 24 of them.

China is in the throes of a vast property mania. First, let me make it perfectly clear that calling China’s real-estate market a “bubble” isn’t denying China’s development success. As optimism is an essential ingredient in a bubble, economic success is a necessary condition. Nor am I saying that prices will drop tomorrow. A bubble evolves and bursts in its own time.

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