British mortgage approvals rise to highest level since January

Bloomberg NewsJanuary 4, 2013 

— British mortgage approvals rose to the highest in 10 months in November, adding to signs that the Bank of England's credit-boosting program is helping to ease strains in lending.

Lenders granted 54,036 mortgages, the most since January 2012, compared with 53,071 in October, the Bank of England said Friday in London. Economists forecast 54,000 approvals, based on the median of 17 estimates in Bloomberg survey. While approvals are increasing, they are still only about half the monthly average in the decade to 2007, when the financial crisis struck.

The data comes a day after the central bank published a survey of lenders showing the availability of mortgages rose “significantly” in the fourth quarter. The Credit Conditions Survey also showed that demand for home loans increased in the quarter and that spreads narrowed “significantly.”

“The initial success of the Funding for Lending Scheme had been to improve the availability of credit to households, and that continued in the latest survey,” Rob Wood, an economist at Berenberg Bank in London, said of the BOE credit survey. “That should help consumption a little, but may have a bigger effect on the housing market.”

Separate BOE data Friday showed that overseas investors increased their holdings of U.K. government bonds for a fifth straight month in November. Non-residents bought 2.31 billion pounds more gilts than they sold, after increasing their holdings by 4.31 billion pounds in October.

The lending data showed that net mortgage lending fell by $271 million in November. Consumer credit increased by 61 million pounds, with credit-card lending up 152 million pounds.

The BOE report Thursday showed that an index of the availability of mortgages rose in the three months through December to the highest since the survey began in the second quarter of 2007. Availability is expected to increase again this quarter, the central bank said.

“Lenders noted that the FLS had been an important factor behind this increase, consistent with a reported easing in wholesale funding conditions, pushing up significantly on credit availability,” it said. “Market share objectives had also contributed significantly to the increase.”

In a separate report Friday, the BOE said that the British money supply fell 0.2 percent in November from the previous month. From a year earlier, M4 was down 2.8 percent.

A measure of M4 money-supply growth the central bank uses to assess the effectiveness of its asset purchases slowed to 4.3 percent from 5.4 percent. The gauge excludes financial companies that specialize in intermediating between banks, such as holding companies and non-bank credit grantors.

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