Booming homes market sees Nationwide profits surge to £332m


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The Independent Online

Nationwide building society has posted a surge in profits after Britain's booming housing market saw it notch up its highest half-year mortgage lending for five years.

The customer-owned group said new mortgage lending leapt 37 per cent to £14 billion in the six months to September 30, meaning £13.2 million was lent every working hour as Government initiatives such as Help to Buy fuel a housing market revival.

A rush of customers switching their current accounts to the mutual also helped drive a robust first-half performance, with underlying operating profits up 155 per cent to £332 million.

Nationwide said it opened more than 214,000 new current accounts and saw 54,000 customers switch to the group.

Nationwide said its share of new mortgage lending rose to 15.4 per cent from 14.4 per cent a year earlier, while net lending - loans, less repayments - leapt 75 per cent to £5.6 billion, giving it an 81.8 per cent share.

Graham Beale, chief executive of Nationwide, hailed an "excellent" first half and said the group was on track for a "strong performance for the rest of the financial year".

He admitted the sector was being helped by access to cheap finance through the state-backed Funding for Lending scheme, as well as economy-boosting measures under quantitative easing (QE).

But he added that the group was also successfully attracting customers from is high street banking rivals, with its share of the current account market increasing from 5.2 per cent to 6 per cent.

Nationwide insisted its results were evidence that mutuals can be successful in retail banking, amid fears that the woes at the Co-operative Banking Group had tarnished the sector's reputation.

"We are making tangible progress in growing our market shares and continue to demonstrate that we offer a real, consistent and viable alternative to the UK banks. In short, we are a really serious competitor," Nationwide said.

Its half-year profit boost is also putting the group ahead of plans agreed with the regulator to plug a hole in its balance sheet, according to Mr Beale.

The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) demanded earlier this year that Nationwide must hold more capital as a buffer against financial crises, including bolstering its leverage ratio, which measures its capital as a percentage of its assets, to 3 per cent by the end of 2015.

Nationwide said it accounted for more than one in five of all first-time buyer mortgages in the UK, but said it would not be signing up to the Government's latest phase of the Help to Buy scheme.

The mortgage guarantee scheme allows buyers to borrow up to 95 per cent of the property price - an area Nationwide insists it has already been active in since November 2011.

"We're already there and offering these loans," said Mr Beale.

Nationwide failed to bring its bad debts and provisions down, standing broadly flat at £323 million, with a further hit from the performance of its £20 billion portfolio of commercial property assets, which saw a rise in impairment charges.

The group also revealed it was putting aside £71 million relating to new consumer credit legislation after a review of its documentation and processes uncovered "a small number of areas which require further inquiry".

It did not have to put any further cash by for mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI).

Nationwide is currently on the hunt for a new chairman after Geoffrey Howe announced last month that he would be retiring after eight years in the role.

Mr Howe will stand down at the annual meeting in the summer of 2015.