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UK lenders approved most mortgages since 2007, other lending slides

David Milliken and Andy Bruce
·2-min read

By David Milliken and Andy Bruce

LONDON (Reuters) - British lenders approved more than 100,000 new mortgages in November, the most since the start of the financial crisis in 2007, defying expectations of a slowdown in the housing market boom that started after the first COVID lockdown.

After a collapse in house purchases early in the pandemic in April and May, there has been a surge in demand to move home, driven in part by a temporary lifting of property purchase taxes which will expire at the end of March.

"The UK housing market has enjoyed its busiest Christmas in over ten years," David Ross, managing director of property data company Hometrack, said.

The boom in house purchases contrasts with a darker picture for many other parts of the economy which are struggling to recover, especially now Britain has been hit by a new COVID variant first identified last month.

Monday's data from the Bank of England showed that lenders approved 104,969 mortgages in November, the most since August 2007 and above all forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists which had predicted a drop to 82,500.

Figures last week from mortgage lender Nationwide showed British house prices rose faster than expected in December to record their biggest annual increase in six years, up 7.3%.

As well as the tax incentives, more widespread working from home has boosted demand for larger rural and suburban homes relative to city centre housing, estate agents say.

By contrast unsecured lending to consumers fell at a record annual pace, as many Britons reined in spending during a fresh lockdown across most of Britain in November that closed non-essential businesses. Others fear unemployment in 2021.

Net consumer lending dropped by 1.539 billion pounds ($2.10 billion) in November - roughly in line with forecasts - and is 6.7% lower than in November 2019, the biggest drop since monthly records began in 1994.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak hopes lower borrowing and increased savings by richer households will enable a surge in spending to boost growth once the economy is able to reopen in 2021, though some economists think caution will prevail.

"We continue to think that households will spend only a small fraction of the 'enforced savings' that they accumulated last year, and that households' overall expenditure will take until mid-2022 to recover to its prior peak," Samuel Tombs of Pantheon Economics said.

($1 = 0.7314 pounds)

(Reporting by David Milliken and Andy Bruce; Editing by Toby Chopra)