Property prices signal boom

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The Independent Online
House prices have leapt by 1.8 per cent in July, reaching their highest level since 1989, according to Nationwide Building Society. In a further signal of boom conditions in part of the economy, the annual rate of house price inflation climbed to 12.2 from 11 per cent in June despite three mortgage rate increases in three months.

The strength of the housing market, mainly in the South-east, backs up other recent evidence of consumer boom that has led many economists to predict the Bank of England will raise interest rates again next week.

Yesterday brought two fresh warnings. The Centre for Economics and Business Research predicted that August car sales would hit the half million mark for only the second time ever, with the launch of the "R" registration tomorrow.

A report from accountancy firm Ernst & Young said interest rates would have to rise as the Budget had done nothing to halt a consumer boom. "Let's hope the Chancellor gets lucky and people don't spend their windfalls all at once," said economist John Gaster.

He said Gordon Brown had missed a golden opportunity to abolish tax relief on mortgage interest payments. The Budget's toughness on government spending meant cuts in public services would be hard to avoid.

A separate report from consultancy Business Strategies said consumer confidence has increased by a record amount since the general election. The "Blair boost" to optimism about the economy was biggest in regions where Labour support is traditionally strong, Scotland, Wales, the North and North- west, according to a new survey.

But it said confidence about personal finances had levelled off in the latest quarter, and there was little sign of an unsustainable consumer boom which would lead eventually to a recession. Director David Fell said the Bank of England should hold off raising interest rates again.

The survey also showed more people think it is a good time to save than at any point since the depths of the recession in 1991.