Home loans rebound despite sluggish market and subdued prices

Mortgage approvals bounced back from recent lows at the start of 2018 – but other signs suggested the housing market and wider economy remained subdued.

Bank of England figures showed the number of home loans approved for house purchases rose to 67,478 in January.

It was a sharper rise than expected and comes after the figure fell to a one-year low of 61,692 in December.

But separate figures from lender Nationwide showed an unexpected 0.3% month-on-month fall in house prices in February.

That brought the year-on-year figure for price increases down to 2.2%, slowing sharply from 3.2% in January.

A further tranche of economic data, this time from the Markit/CIPS purchasing managers’ index (PMI), showed growth in the manufacturing sector slowed to an eight-month low in February.

The latest figures come after official data last week revised down annual GDP growth for 2017 to 1.7%, confirming that the UK’s expansion cooled off in the year after the vote to leave the EU.

It meant the UK’s annual growth was the slowest out of the G7 group of seven leading economies.

Two robotic arms manufacturing something in laboratory while female engineer is in the background.
Manufacturing has received a boost from the weakness of the pound

This has been largely attributed to a squeeze on consumers following the Brexit vote – which resulted in a slump in the pound, pushing up the price of imports and driving up inflation.

There has been some benefit to manufacturing, as the weakness of sterling tends to help UK exporters pricing their goods for overseas sale.

But the trend of strongly rising house prices in recent years has been weakened – at a time when consumer confidence is also fragile amid uncertainty about Brexit negotiations.

In recent months, a Bank of England interest rate rise last autumn and signs of more to come this year may further be weighing on the minds of would-be house buyers.

Cuts to stamp duty in the autumn Budget could have partly cushioned the effect.

Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club, said the sharp rebound in mortgage approvals in January suggested December’s fall may have been a “knee-jerk reaction to the Bank of England raising interest rates in November”.

But he added: “The latest survey evidence largely points to still weak housing market activity early on in 2018.”

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