Borrowers pay back £400m in December

 

Consumers cut their debts at the fastest rate in two decades during December amid signs they dipped into savings to pay for Christmas.

Bank of England figures showed a net repayment of £377 million in unsecured loans, the largest since records began in 1993 as analysts said consumers continued to lack the appetite to borrow amid concerns about the wider economy and jobs.

The figure reversed the £400 million increase in consumer credit reported for November, which had been in line with the six-month average.

Credit card borrowing was flat for the third month in a row, despite the festive season.

Meanwhile, the Buildings Societies Association (BSA) said that consumers took out £100 million of savings in December, indicating they could have been using spare cash to help tide them over Christmas rather than taking on more debt.

BSA director-general Adrian Coles said: "It is clear that savers are still struggling to save as much as they would like, or are choosing to use spare cash to pay down debt instead.

"The fall in the rate of inflation may offer some breathing space to households but, if conditions in the labour market continue to deteriorate and wage growth remains low, household finances are likely to remain squeezed for some time to come."

The Bank of England figures showed that mortgage approvals rose to a two-year high in December, but analysts said the housing market remains weak compared with long-term norms, and is likely to come under further pressure from low confidence.

The number of loan approvals for house purchase rose to 52,939 in December, the highest figure since December 2009 and an increase of just over 300 on the November.

But the upturn is slower than forecasters had been predicting, dampening hopes of any strong recovery in the near future.

Samuel Tombs, an economist at Capital Economics, described the latest figures as "disappointing" and said they showed the recent recovery in mortgage approvals had "ground to a near halt".

He said: "The monthly rise of 300 in the official measure of mortgage approvals for new house purchase to 52,900 was well below the consensus expectation of a rise of more than 1,000."

The value of the mortgage approvals stood at £7.5 billion, unchanged from last month's figure.

Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight, said he expected consumer borrowing to remain limited over the coming months, although he said more people could turn to loans as their budgets come under further pressure from job losses.

He said: "The record net repayment in consumer credit in December highlights not only very low consumer appetite for new taking on new borrowing but also the strong desire of many consumers to reduce their debt."

Overall, the BSA said savings balances held by mutuals grew by £4 billion last year, compared with a £200 million increase in 2010.

The BSA's figures also showed a 16% increase in gross mortgage lending in 2011 compared with 2010, to reach £23.6 billion, although house transactions generally remain low by historic standards.

PA

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