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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 18:39 GMT
Credit card spending reaches high
Shoppers rushed to the January sales
Credit card spending reached a high of 11.7bn in January as shoppers rushed to take advantage of seasonal sales.

Britons borrowed an extra 744m on their credit cards during the month, up from the 166m rise in December.

Overall, consumer credit rose by 1.93bn in January, the biggest monthly increase since last May and double December's rise.

However, mortgage lending fell in January with 8,000 fewer loans according to Bank of England figures.

'Insatiable appetite'

A total of 25.7bn was lent during the month, slightly lower than the 26.2bn December figure.

However, remortgaging and credit cards remained popular with 10.6bn of credit secured during the month, up from 9.2bn in December.

The figures may affect the case for an interest rate rise as the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee meets later this week.

The MPC has already raised interest rates twice since November, partly with the aim of keeping a lid on consumer debt.

And their hand may be forced again "unless the apparently insatiable appetite of households for debt begins to wane," said Simon Rubinsohn, chief economist at investment management firm Gerrard.

Market analyst Datamonitor recently revealed the average British person owes 4,426 through credit cards, overdrafts and hire purchase agreements alone.

Many analysts say that the MPC is treading a fine line.

If the MPC raises rates too high, then businesses and consumers will invariably stop spending as they struggle to meet higher debt repayments.

Under the worst case scenario, the Bank of England might raise rates too far which could force the economy to go into reverse.

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