Page last updated at 11:04 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

Mortgage lending 'rose in February'

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Mortgage lending increased in February as the fluctuation in the housing market continued, lenders have said.

Gross lending for home loans in the UK rose by 6% in February compared with January to an estimated £9.2bn, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said.

The figures come after a slowdown in January when housing market activity was hit by the weather and the end of stamp duty relief.

Lenders said they expected an uneven market in the months ahead.

Recovery?

The February lending figure is still well below the average during 2009, and was 6% lower than mortgage lending in the same month a year earlier.

With activity unlikely to pick up much in the short term, we would expect to see continuing price fluctuation in the coming months
Paul Samter, CML

CML economist Paul Samter said: "Lending remains relatively weak, suggesting that activity is still at low levels."

The cold weather and the return to a £125,000 threshold for the payment of stamp duty at the start of the year led to a sharp dip in lending in January.

This explained the "unusual" rise in lending in February compared with January, despite it being the shortest month of the year, the CML said.

The lenders' group said that the start of the year was broadly in line with their forecast of £150bn of mortgage lending in 2010.

Mr Samter said that they expected to see some emerging confidence in the UK economy, but that the economy would slow owing to action to tackle the fiscal deficit.

This, together with a squeeze on banks' and building societies' mortgage funding, meant an uneven housing market in the months ahead.

Recent house price data from lenders suggested that property values dipped in February.

"Given the short-term weakness and distortions in the housing market, as well as more properties coming onto the market, it was perhaps unsurprising to see falls in some of the monthly house price indices," Mr Samter said.

"With activity unlikely to pick up much in the short term, we would expect to see continuing price fluctuation in the coming months."

Jobs market

Figures published on Wednesday showed that the number of people unemployed in the UK had fallen again, leaving the jobless rate at 7.8%.

House keys
First-time buyers have found it tough to get on the ladder

The CML said that unemployment had not been as bad as had been feared. Many workers had proved to be flexible, accepting pay cuts and part-time work.

As a result - with interest rates low - borrowers have managed to keep up with their monthly mortgage payments, which has kept a lid on arrears and repossessions.

However, the CML said new lending was still expected to be limited in 2010 as banks rebuilt their finances. This was likely to mean limited mortgage availability for more "risky" borrowers, such as those without a large deposit and first-time buyers.

However, the Bank of England's Trends in Lending report, published at the same time as the CML figures, found that prices had dropped for those who could get a mortgage and who offered a significant deposit.

"In recent months, the major UK lenders reported some downward pressure on mortgage pricing due to increasing competition to lend," the report said.

The general election is also likely to have an effect on the housing market, according to Brian Murphy, of the mortgage broker, the Mortgage Advice Bureau.

"This is clearly going to play on the minds of many prospective buyers and those people who are in a position to buy and would probably buy now if there was not a general election just around the corner, may well hold off making a decision until early summer," he said.

"As a result, we could well see a levelling off in mortgage activity in the coming months."

The Bank of England report said that demand for other forms of lending, such as personal loans and credit cards, remained subdued as people looked to reduce their unsecured borrowing.

Interest rates on this lending remained high compared with the Bank rate as there was a heightened risk of people defaulting, the report said.



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