Home loan numbers fall

Mortgage approvals for people buying a home and switching to a new deal dropped during April as the long bank holiday weekends and economic uncertainty dented activity in the property market.

The number of mortgages approved for house purchases fell by 6% during the month to stand at 29,355, nearly a fifth lower than in April 2010, according to the British Bankers' Association (BBA).

The reduction in the number of people remortgaging was even steeper, diving by 12% compared with March to 20,844, the lowest level since January last year.

The group partly attributed the drop to the Easter and royal wedding bank holiday weekends in April, which distracted people from buying a home or remortgaging as they instead made the most of the extra time off work.

It added that the ongoing economic uncertainty was also a factor, with this putting people off buying a new property, while the threat of an imminent increase in interest rates also receded, causing people to delay remortgaging.

Total mortgage advances showed signs of stabilising during the month at £7.9 billion, in line with the recent six-month average, but well down on the sums of around £19 billion which were typically advanced each month before the credit crunch struck.

Net lending, which strips out redemptions and repayments, remain subdued at £1.3 billion, as homeowners continued to focus on paying down their mortgage.

April was a difficult month for the property market, with the Council of Mortgage Lenders saying total mortgage advances dived by 14%, while Halifax reported price falls of 1.4%, although Nationwide recorded a more modest 0.2% decline.

But a report by the National Association of Estate Agents was more upbeat, saying sales levels remained stable during the month at an average of eight per branch.

Estate agents reported a flurry of activity in the market during the early part of the month in the run-up to Easter, but said interest tailed off over the extended bank holiday period.

Borrowing through credit cards was slightly stronger in April than during previous months, rising by £228 million, compared with a recent average of around £100 million, the BBA said.

But the increase was largely caused by interest and charges, as repayments continued to outstrip new spending.

Lending through personal loans and overdrafts contracted for the 21st consecutive month, as consumers repaid £181 million more than they borrowed.

The amount people saved fell sharply during April, with consumers increasing their deposits by £843 million, well down on the previous month's £2.31 billion and the recent monthly average of £2.5 billion.

Consumers now have a total of £641.9 billion saved, 3.8% more than a year earlier, with a total of £9.1 billion paid into tax-free ISAs during the 12 months to the end of April.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said: "The relapse in mortgage approvals in April from an already low level reinforces our belief that modest falls in house prices are more probable than not over the coming months."

Paul Diggle, property economist at Capital Economics, said: "Although April's late Easter and royal wedding celebrations may have depressed mortgage market activity, today's weak figures are consistent with the struggling economic recovery.

"What's more, the chances of a meaningful improvement in mortgage lending, at least for the foreseeable future, are remote."

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