By Elias Glenn
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's red-hot property market picked up pace in February after price gains had slowed in the previous four months, with average new home prices in 70 major cities edging up in spite of a raft of new government curbs aimed at tempering speculative demand.
Compared with a month earlier, new home prices rose 0.3 percent, quickening from January's 0.2 percent increase, according to Reuters calculations from data issued by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Saturday.
The monthly gain in price growth suggested speculation has yet to be contained even with more local governments rolling out restrictive measures amid fears that a furious rally over the past year end in a crash.
China's property sales unexpectedly surged in the first two months of the year despite government measures to cool the market, though growth in real estate investment eased slightly, according to official data released on Tuesday.
RAISING THE BAR, AGAIN
Recent weeks have seen the biggest wave of tightening of home purchase and lending rules since October, a sign that prices remains strong as investors gamble the measures so far won't contain prices.
On Friday, Beijing's municipal government announced new steps to rein in its housing market, increasing the minimum down payment for second home purchases in the city to at least 60 percent from 50 percent.
Prices for new homes in Beijing were flat month-on-month in February, while second-hand home prices rose 1.3 percent.
Guangzhou's city government on Friday said unmarried people and non-local residents will only be allowed to buy one home in the city from Saturday. The minimum down payment on second homes will also be raised to 50 percent.
Hot markets Hangzhou and Nanjing were among other major cities to step up their fight against property speculators, as authorities fret over resurgent price growth that has shown only modest signs of abating.
Speculators also appeared to be venturing into smaller markets that have more relaxed housing purchase policies. Surging price growth in satellite cities near some of the country's sprawling metropolises have prompted authorities in those areas to impose purchases bans.
Shijiazhuang, for example, capital of Beijing neighbor Hebei province, on Saturday imposed home purchase restrictions for the first time since 2014, according to a post on the website of the Shijiazhuang government.
Non-local residents will be limited to one house in the city, and the minimum down payment for residents on second homes was raised to 40 percent.
Shijiazhuang home prices rose 18.2 percent year-on-year in February and 0.2 percent from January.
BIG CITIES SLOWING
New home prices rose 11.8 percent from a year ago, compared with January's 12.2 percent gain, according to NBS data. That was the slowest in five months as gains in the biggest cities dropped off.
Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing prices rose 13.5 percent, 21.1 percent and 22.1 percent, respectively, in February from a year earlier, all slower than January's annual growth rates.
On a monthly basis, Shenzhen prices fell 0.6 percent and Shanghai gained 0.2 percent.
Home prices in the smaller market of Hefei, capital of eastern Anhui province, rose the fastest among the 70 cities surveyed at 40.5 percent year-on-year, though still falling 0.2 percent on-month.
China's policymakers have vowed to keep the property market stable and stem speculation this year, with the government adding to its work report after the annual parliament closed on Wednesday a pledge to contain fast-rising home prices.
(Reporting by Elias Glenn and Yawen Chen; Editing by Richard Borsuk and Tom Hogue)