UK mortgage approvals weakest since Jan 2015, but consumer borrowing grows

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s housing market lost momentum last month as mortgage approvals were the weakest in nearly three years following the Bank o

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s housing market lost momentum last month as mortgage approvals were the weakest in nearly three years following the Bank of England’s first interest rate hike in a decade.

At the same time, growth in lending to consumers, something the BoE has said it is watching closely, picked up speed for the first time in four months.

Britain lagged behind stronger growth in much of the rest of the global economy last year as higher inflation and weak wage growth ate into households’ disposable income, slowing the housing market, according to a range of indicators.

The BoE said that the number of mortgages approved for house purchase fell to 61,039, the lowest since January 2015, from 64,712 in November and below economists’ forecasts of a drop to 63,500 in a Reuters poll.

The central bank raised rates for the first time since 2007 in November, reversing a cut made in August 2016, and said further increases were likely in the coming years.

Figures last week from industry group UK Finance had shown British banks last month approved the fewest mortgages since April 2013 and growth in consumer credit slowed.

However, the BoE said its figures showed consumer lending increased by 1.52 billion pounds in December, slight above the range of forecasts in the Reuters poll.

That pushed up the growth rate in unsecured consumer lending to 9.5 percent on an annualised basis in the year to December from November’s 9.3 percent.

Consumer credit growth had been slowing gradually since it peaked at nearly 11 percent in November 2016.

Net mortgage lending also rose by a stronger than expected 3.683 billion pounds.

The BoE has played down any suggestion of a debt bubble, though it has acknowledged pockets of risk and required banks to set aside more money against the risk of bad loans.

British shop sales slid in December, capping off the weakest year for retail since 2013 as consumers squeezed by the Brexit hit to prices continued to keep a tight grip on spending.

Reporting by William Schomberg and David Milliken

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