April 26 (Bloomberg) -- "My maid just asked for leave," a friend in Beijing told me recently. "She's rushing home to buy property. I suggested she borrow 70 percent, so she could cap the loss."
It wasn't the first time I had heard such a story in China. Some friends in Shanghai have told me similar ones. It seems all the housemaids are rushing into the market at the same time.
There are benefits to housekeeping for fund managers. China's housemaids may be Asia's answer to the shoeshine boy whose stock tips prompted Joseph Kennedy to sell his shares before the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
Another friend recently vacationed in the southern island- resort city of Sanya in Hainan province and felt compelled to visit a development sales office. Everyone she knew had bought there already. It's either buy or be unsocial.
"You should buy two," the sharp sales girl suggested. "In three years, the price will have doubled. You could sell one and get one free."
How could anyone resist an offer like that?
The evidence in official-corruption cases no longer involves cash stashed in refrigerators or starlet mistresses in Versace clothing. The evidence is now apartments. One mid-level official in Shanghai was caught with 24 of them.
China is in the throes of a vast property mania. First, let me make it perfectly clear that calling China's real-estate market a "bubble" isn't denying China's development success. As optimism is an essential ingredient in a bubble, economic success is a necessary condition. Nor am I saying that prices will drop tomorrow. A bubble evolves and bursts in its own time. When it is about to burst, I'll let you know.
Expectations of a Chinese currency revaluation are, perhaps, the most important force inflating the bubble. First, it plays to the latent human desire for a free lunch. You just need to exchange your money for Chinese yuan. According to all the experts on Wall Street, you can only gain. The money has been gushing into China.
Second, the revaluation story has kept Chinese money inside the country. The dollar has always been the safe-haven asset for Chinese. This is why Chinese banks had a large dollar deposit base. Of course, anybody who was somebody had dollars offshore. Now all that money is back. More importantly, any income, legal or otherwise, now stays in China.