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China’s bubble pricking experiment

The latest news came in from China:

(China’s regulators) set a 30% minimum down-payment for purchases of first homes larger than 90 square meters, and raised the down-payment requirement for second homes for the second time this year, to 50% from 40%. Relatively few buyers now qualify for the minimum down payment of 20%.

In my view, China stands at the forefront of the policy experiment of pricking asset-bubbles.  Many economists and central bankers hold the view that bubble is impossible to detect; instead, policy makers should focus on minimizing the damage in the aftermath of bubble bursting. Former Fed Chairman, Alan Greenspan, is one of them.

The recent financial crisis taught us an important lesson, i.e., central bankers should take a pro-active role in containing the bubble – the damage left by bubble bursting is just too great to ignore, especially to the employment.

China’s case is especially interesting – unlike Western central bankers, so far Chinese policy makers have largely relied on administrative measures, instead of the traditional policy instruments, like interest rates.

I would think the new regulation on down-payment would be quite effective.  However, it’s an open question how strictly Chinese policy makers would want to implement such policy; and how long and how far the policy makers would allow the price to fall, without worrying about the stability of the system – yes, I am talking about the stability of political system.

If speculators know the government isn’t going to allow the price to fall (or fall too much), then this will eventually create a Moral Hazard problem – Next round, when new policy measures come about, real estate developers and speculators just hold up, accumulating housing inventories, anticipating the policy will soon reverse.  This will essentially render polices ineffective.

So all in all, we may never really get rid of bubble – as long as there is human greed and fear, and no matter which system you are living in – unregulated or heavily regulated.

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