By Andy Bruce
LONDON -Mortgage approvals in Britain dropped last month to their lowest since June 2020, according to central bank data on Monday that underlined recent signs of slowing housing market activity after the end of a tax break on home purchases.
Along with more robust figures for consumer lending – which grew by its most since July 2020, when there was an easing of initial COVID-19 lockdown restrictions – the figures offer a mixed picture for the BoE as it considers a December rate rise.
The Bank of England said lenders approved 67,199 mortgages in October, below all forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists and down from 71,851 in September.
Other surveys have pointed to a slowdown in the number of homes coming to the market, something that has pushed house prices to new record highs despite the withdrawal of a temporary exemption from Stamp Duty Land Tax for property purchases.
Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at consultancy Pantheon Macroeconomics, said he expected demand to pick up in the last couple of months of this year, then slow in 2022.
“The downward pressure on households’ incomes will build as CPI inflation rises further and taxes increase in April. Accordingly, we expect mortgage approvals to merely match their 2015-to-2019 average in the first half of next year,” he said.
The BoE data also showed unsecured consumer lending rose by 706 million pounds ($941 million) after repayments, the largest net increase since July 2020 and one driven mostly by credit card spending.
The figures chimed with stronger-than-expected retail sales data for October, although the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has clouded the outlook for consumer spending.
Overall consumer borrowing grew at an annualised rate of 3.3% in the three months to the end of October, the same rate as in August and the joint highest since the three months to the end of February 2020.
The stock of credit card borrowing remains about 15 billion pounds lower than its pre-pandemic level of around 72 billion pounds, the BoE figures showed.
($1 = 0.7501 pounds)