Borrowing bolsters hopes of recovery

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The Independent Online
AN unexpected surge in consumer borrowing from finance houses during October provided more evidence yesterday that high street spending may be reviving.

The credit figures complement hopeful signs from retail sales and money supply figures, both of which have been picking up in recent months. But economists remain uncertain whether the rise in spending will prove sustainable, as unemployment continues to rise and house prices stagnate.

Consumers took on pounds 76m more debt than they repaid in October, according to the Central Statistical Office.

This is roughly the same as in July and follows net repayments of debt in August and September. The figure was slightly higher than City forecasts.

Net borrowing from finance houses leapt to pounds 117m in October, from pounds 6m in September, the largest net borrowing figure for the sector in 18 months.

Ian Shepherdson, economist at Midland Montagu, said the rise in finance house borrowing might reflect rising sales of cars and household goods. The boost to housing turnover as people rushed to beat August's reimposition of stamp duty might have encouraged people to buy more household goods.

There is a lag before the resulting credit agreements feed through to the official figures.

Consumers repaid a net pounds 32m of bank credit card debt in October, down from a repayment of pounds 58m the previous month. The total amount of consumer credit outstanding in October was pounds 9m down on the previous month at just under pounds 29.7bn.

The fall includes the projected writing-off or downward revaluing of about pounds 80m of consumer debt in the month. Some pounds 3.8bn of new credit was advanced, down from pounds 4.4bn in September but in line with other recent months.

Stirrings of economic optimism in Britain continued to buoy the pound, but the currency failed to make a decisive break through DM2.50. Sterling closed 0.58 pfennigs higher at DM2.4905, and rose 1.85 cents to dollars 1.5820. Against a basket of currencies, the pound gained 0.5 points to close at 81.2 per cent of its 1985 level. (In New York, the pound closed at dollars 1.5982).

The French franc had a nervous day, hit by reports - later formally denied - that senior French oficials were prepared to consider a devalution of the currency. The Swiss franc was hit early on by the country's referendum decision to reject closer ties with the European Community, but later recovered.

(Graph omitted)