* Jan-Feb property investment up 8.9 pct y/y, pace cools
* Property sales by area up 25.1 pct y/y, strong pick-up
* New construction starts up 10.4 pct y/y
* Commercial housing inventory galls 4.6 pct by end Feb
(Adds graphic and byline)
By Yawen Chen and Elias Glenn
BEIJING, March 14 China's property sales surged
in the first two months of the year despite government measures
to cool the market, though growth in real estate investment
showed signs of easing, according to official data on Tuesday.
Property sales by area rose 25.1 percent year-on-year in
January and February.
That was above the 22.5 percent annual gain in 2016, which
was the strongest annual growth in seven years thanks to a
property boom in top-tier cities.
It was also a marked surge from December, when property
sales by area rose 11.8 percent from a year earlier, according
to Reuters' calculations.
After sharp home price rises last year, China's policymakers
have started to worry about overheating in the property market
and the risk of a sudden and sharp correction that would knock
Many local governments in cities which have seen the
sharpest price rises have rolled out a series of restrictions in
the past few months on buying and ownership.
The property readings were part of a raft of data released
by China on Tuesday which showed the broader economy remained on
a solid growth path early in the year.
Real estate investment grew 8.9 percent in the first two
months of 2017 from the same period a year earlier, according to
the National Bureau of Statistics.
That compares with 11.1 percent in December alone, according
to Reuters' calculations, and 6.9 percent in all of 2016.
Real estate investment directly affects about 40 other
business sectors in China, and is considered to be a crucial
driver for the world's second-largest economy.
Central bank data last week showed household loans, mostly
mortgages, accounted for 25.7 percent of new loans in February,
down from 37 percent in January and 50 percent in 2016, adding
to signs of cooling in the housing sector.
China's banking regulator and central bank have told banks
to curtail new mortgage lending, state-owned newspaper Economic
Information Daily reported on Monday, citing unnamed banking
A Reuters poll in February showed that China's housing price
growth is expected to slow significantly this year due to
continuing government curbs and tighter credit conditions,
dampening land sales and dragging property investment growth to
a median 3 percent in 2017.
China is looking to keep the property market stable this
year after prices of new homes soared 12.4 percent last year,
the most since 2011.
Analysts believe authorities will continue to tighten
restrictions introduced last year to cool the hottest property
But property speculators are betting the government will
relent and ease curbs if economic growth begins to falter, as
many analysts expect.
New construction starts, a telling figure of property
developers' confidence in the market, were up 10.4 percent in
January-February from a year ago, compared with the 8.1 percent
annual gain in 2016, the NBS data showed.
But the pace of new starts did moderate slightly from a jump
12.5 percent in December, Reuters calculations showed.
China is aiming for economic growth of around 6.5 percent in
2017, a more modest target than seen in the previous year,
Premier Li Keqiang said at the opening of the annual meeting of
parliament last week.
That should give policymakers more room to tackle financial
risks and prevent asset bubbles.
Li also said that China will continue to implement
city-based policy to reduce real estate inventories, mainly in
smaller third- and fourth-tier cities where a huge overhang of
unsold homes has kept prices far more subdued.
Growth in inventory floor area over the two months period
was 4.6 percent lower than one year earlier. The inventory floor
area of commercial housing fell 3.2 percent last year.
Housing minister Chen Zhenggao said on the sidelines of the
parliament meeting that he was "fully confident" of the outlook
for the property market, amid strong economic fundamentals and
(Additional reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk; Editing by