An extraordinary sharp rise in property prices and robust growth in banks’ housing loans portfolio is drawing attention of policymakers, economists and bankers said this week.
It is not clear whether the Reserve Bank of India, in its mid-quarter policy review on Thursday, will take more than cognisance of these developments that have impact on the effectiveness of its battle against inflation. Some economists believe RBI won’t impose curbs on bank credit to realty sector although housing inflation is fed by easy availability of banks loans.
Not that it has ignored this development.
Late August, the central bank’s annual report noted, “Although housing prices witnessed correction during the global financial crisis, there was a sharp rebound in the subsequent period.”
“Greater pace of rise in asset prices continued to remain a concern from the standpoint of macroeconomic management,” the report said.
Rising property prices in past one year have raised fears an asset bubble may be forming in real estate sector.
Reliable data on housing prices is limited. According to Makaan.com, a website on real estate, property prices in Mumbai and Pune rose 10-14% in the year to July 31. In Delhi’s National Capital Region, prices were up 30%. An official indicator of housing prices is the consumer price index for urban non-manual employees (CPI-UNME). This puts housing inflation at 33% from a year ago in June.
The escalation in property prices “is somewhat out of sync from fundamental viewpoint”, said Abheek Barua, chief economist at HDFC Bank. In the past, RBI has increased risk-weights on banks’ loans to real estate to limit lending to the sector. RBI hiked risk-weight on advances to commercial real estate sector to 1% from 0.4% in October 9. Rating agency Crisil’s economist dismissed ideas the banking regulator would impose stricter sanctions on real estate loans in Thursday’s policy.
“Real estate prices have been on RBI’s radar for some time,” acknowledged Dharmakirti Joshi, chief economist of Crisil. But “I don’t think there will be any major changes (in real estate lending norms) on September 16,” he said, noting, “There are still downside risks to the economy.” For some, spike in home prices mirrors growth in economy, and therefore there is no need for RBI to up the ante on housing.
“I don’t think there is any bubble in property prices at this point of time,” said Madan Sabnavis, the chief economist of Credit Analysis & Research, also a credit rating agency.
“Overall, if one takes a sanguine view of the Indian economy, things are looking positive. So it is natural realty prices will also go up,” he said. “I don’t think RBI needs to act or will act immediately. But if this upswing (in property prices) persists, RBI may act accordingly,” he said.