Fitch: Risks to Indian homebuilders rise; sales to fall in 2017
Fitch Ratings expects property sales in India to fall by at least 20%-30% in 2017, owing to disruption caused by demonetisation and general caution on the part of buyers. Homebuilders already have high levels of unsold inventory and are likely to cut selling prices as demand weakens. We expect risks to homebuilders to rise further this year, with leverage likely to increase and liquidity to tighten. Homebuilders with access to diversified funding channels are likely to be more insulated from the downturn.
We expect home prices to decline this year because demand for residential property has weakened significantly in 4Q16, following the demonetisation of large denomination notes in November last year. Demonetisation has made it harder for home buyers to use undeclared wealth for property payments. The number of residential property units sold in 4Q16 fell by 44% yoy, dragging down overall units sold in 2016 by 9%, based on data compiled by Knight Frank Research. The volume of new units launched fell by 61% yoy.
We expect the largest cuts to selling prices in the National Capital Region (NCR) followed by Mumbai, where unsold inventory is the highest at 16 and 10 quarters of sales, respectively, based on market estimates. The NCR is also known to have the largest cash-based economy in the country, and therefore demand is likely to suffer more from the currency demonetisation than other regions. We expect demand for homes in Chennai and Pune to be less affected by the downturn, as unsold inventory is the lowest in these cities, at around 6-7 quarters of sales.
Top-tier homebuilders like Indiabulls Real Estate Limited (IBREL, B+/Stable) and Lodha Developers Private Limited (Lodha, B/Negative) – whose sales benefit from their brand strength – have yet to start cutting home prices substantially. However, we understand that smaller and second-tier homebuilders across the country have started offering discounts of around 25%-30% to attract buyers.
The worst of the downturn in home sales is likely to occur in 1H17. Demand is likely to recover moderately in 2H17 as the festive season approaches, and because banks have cut interest rates on home loans by 50bp-60bp over the last 12 months to multi-year lows.
Fitch continues to expect homebuilders that have a large pipeline of pre-sold projects, such as IBREL and Lodha, to be better off than those that do not. However, even these homebuilders’ credit profiles may weaken if demand does not recover for an extended period. Although property construction was hampered for a few weeks after the demonetisation announcement, we understand that most homebuilders have been able to work around practical issues related to making payments to suppliers and contractors, and that construction has since resumed.