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Economy

Big cities help end protracted slide in Japanese land values

Tokyo's Ginza district boasts Japan's highest land values.

TOKYO -- Japan's land prices are rising for the first time in eight years as easy money fuels real estate investment and booming tourist spending lifts commercial rents.

     The average appraised value of land nationwide was up 0.1% on Jan. 1 from a year earlier, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said Tuesday, the first increase since the 2008 financial crisis. Commercial land values climbed 0.9% after staying flat the prior year. Residential values slid 0.2%, but still improved from the 0.4% decline for January 2015.

Ups and downs

Commercial land values surged 2.9% surrounding Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, Japan's three largest urban areas. Values soared an average of 5.7% in four core regional cities: Sapporo, Sendai, Hiroshima and Fukuoka. Spending by a flood of foreign tourists boosted earnings for hotels and stores, leading to higher rents and property values.

     Yamano Music's flagship store in Tokyo's posh Ginza district occupied the country's most valuable land for the 10th year running. That property is valued at 40.1 million yen ($359,255) per sq. meter -- the highest-ever official price, exceeding 39 million yen per sq. meter there during central Tokyo's real estate mini-bubble in 2008.

     Residential land values increased 0.5% in Japan's three largest urban areas, rising for the third year straight. Those in the four core regional cities climbed 2.3%. But fortunes were divided outside Japan's largest metropolises, with areas outside the four regional cities seeing a 1% drop.

     Certain prefectures emerged as winners or losers. Both residential and commercial values in Akita, Tottori and Kagoshima continued to fall by 2% or more.

Continued interest

Large-scale monetary easing, part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic program, helped boost values. Stronger easing measures hatched by the Bank of Japan in October 2014 drove investors into the property market. The central bank expanded its own real estate investment trust holdings by around 92 billion yen in 2015 to 290 billion yen. Banks' new lending to the real estate sector touched a high for the first time in 26 years.

     The yen's softening last year made Japanese real estate a bargain for overseas investors, likely spurring an influx of funds. "We continue to receive quite a number of inquiries from buyers -- primarily foreign investors -- looking to invest in Japanese property," said Hiroshi Okubo of real estate services company CBRE in Tokyo. "Demand has not weakened."

     Tuesday's data does not factor in the Bank of Japan's negative interest rates announced Jan. 29. That policy could send more funds into markets such as commercial property in city centers via REITs, possibly causing price-overheating in some areas.

(Nikkei)

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