China’s home prices rose in the fewest cities in five months in February, as the government’s almost two-year campaign to curb property speculation started to bite.

New-home prices, excluding government-subsidized housing, gained in 44 of 70 cities tracked, compared with 52 in January, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday. Prices fell in 16 cities from the previous month and were unchanged in 10. The increase is the fewest since September, according to Bloomberg calculations.


The slower growth comes as authorities sent a stronger signal at the National People’s Congress on efforts to curb property speculation and tame runaway prices. Earlier this month, an NPC spokesman said a property tax bill is being drafted, and the head of the nation’s banking regulator again called for steps to reduce household debt. That followed home-buying restrictions in at least 125 cities, according to data provider Fang Holdings Ltd.


“As long as President Xi Jinping wants deleveraging of the economy, I think the property market is on a long-term downward trend,” Andy Xie, an independent analyst and a former chief Asia economist at Morgan Stanley, told Bloomberg TV.


Chinese developers fell in Hong Kong trading. China Evergrande Group shares fell 2.7 percent, China Vanke Co. dropped 1.9 percent and and Country Garden Holdings Co. declined 2.2 percent.

Top cities led the price declines, leading values to drop from a year ago. Prices in Shenzhen had the biggest decline in three quarters, falling 0.6 percent from a year earlier. Values slid 0.4 percent in Guangzhou, 0.3 percent in Beijing and 0.2 percent in Shanghai.