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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Mortgage approvals hit year low
Model house
Recent interest rate rises in the UK could be beginning to bite
The number of new mortgage approvals in the UK fell to a 12-month low in April, Bank of England figures show.

Mortgage approvals totalled 107,000 in April, down from 111,000 in March and the third monthly decline in a row.

In a further indication of weakening buyer demand mortgage lending rose by 8.9bn, much less than expected and the weakest rise since September

Consumer debt rose by only 498m - half what was expected and the smallest increase since March 1997.

"The Bank of England will be comforted by today's news which shows its monetary tightening is taking effect," said Thushani Gajasinghe, an economist at the Centre for Economic and Business Research.

"With a further quarter-point rate increase possible in the third quarter, consumer lending may cool further."

Rate pressure

Historically low interest rates in the past few years have encouraged Britons to take on a mountain of debt - now reaching 1.5 trillion.

However, interest rates have risen four times since the beginning of August last year which has begun to put pressure on some households' finances.

Interest rates rose to 5.5% last month and it is widely thought a further rate increase is on the cards before August, and could even hit 6% by the end of the year.

These rate rises are already impacting the consumer's attitude to credit card spending, and are expected to eventually take some of the steam out of the surging housing market and stabilise soaring property prices.

Pricing pressure?

But with double-digit price growth reported by Nationwide for May, analysts remain tentative on calling when a slowdown may occur.

Global Insight economist Howard Archer said a general property shortage - particularly in London and the South East - would keep pricing power in favour of the vendor for a little while yet.

But he did point out that significantly more houses have come onto the market in recent weeks as vendors looked to beat the planned introduction of compulsory Home Information Packs (Hips) in June.

"This could well have some dampening impact on house prices in the near term at least, although it remains to be seen how housing supply will be affected by the delaying of the introduction of Hips to at least August," he added.


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