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Number of mortgage approvals falls


The number of mortgage approvals for house purchases fell in September for the first time in six months, according to official figures released today.

Loan approvals decreased 2.6% to just under 51,000 between August and September, in its first fall since April, figures from the Bank of England showed.

Meanwhile, the amount people borrowed on credit cards rose by £200 million, after falling slightly the previous month.

Economists said the lending trends were evidence of the pain being felt by consumers as wages fail to keep pace with the rising cost of living.

Samuel Tombs, of Capital Economics, said: "September's lending figures confirm that constraints on the supply of credit are still acting as a major brake on the economic recovery.

"Although net consumer credit posted a decent increase in September, we suspect that this is largely a reflection of the squeeze on households' real incomes."

He added that it was too early to tell whether the decline in the number of mortgage approvals was the beginning of a renewed downward trend, but said recent labour market weakness and the deterioration of conditions in wholesale funding markets suggest that lending will remain subdued.

The figures for lending for house purchases represent a turnaround on August when there was a 6% increase to 52,410 as mortgage providers - such as Nationwide and the Post Office - slashed rates on a range of fixed-rate mortgages as the Bank of England continues to hold its base rate at a historic low of 0.5%.

The latest figures are significantly lower than the level of 70,000 to 80,000 that has in the past been considered consistent with stable house prices.

Howard Archer, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said today's data fuels his belief that house prices are "likely to trend down over the coming months in the face of very low consumer confidence amid persistently weak economic activity, markedly rising unemployment and muted earnings growth".

He predicts house prices will fall by around 5% from current levels by mid-2012 although he believes the declines could be even greater "given the troubling economic outlook".

Net mortgage lending, which includes remortgages, rose by just £300 million in September, having increased by £600 million the previous month, reflecting a trend towards property owners taking advantage of record low interest rates to pay off some of their debt.