Share of new home loans falls at Halifax

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The Independent Online
Halifax Building Society said yesterday that its refusal to enter the home loans price war had cut its share of net mortgage lending to barely 3 per cent of the market over the first half of this year.

Excluding its acquisition of Banque Paribas' UK mortgage book, this contrasts sharply with its dominant 20 per cent share of the existing home loans market. Halifax's net mortage lending was pounds 585m, and the gross figure, ignoring loan redemptions, was pounds 4.8bn - a 14.1 per cent share of the market.

Mike Blackburn, chief executive at Halifax, said: "We are looking for asset quality and future profitability.

"My judgement is that future profitability will not come to those who have the largest market share of the lending market, but who can afford the share they take."

Despite the unwillingness of many borrowers to switch their mortgages away from Halifax in view of its impending flotation, others were using lower mortgage interest rates to speed up their capital repayments by leaving their standing orders unchanged at higher levels.

Mr Blackburn's comments came as Halifax unveiled a rise in first-half pre-tax profits of 6 per cent to pounds 649m. The society said that it was still well on target for its stock market flotation in the summer of next year.

Jon Faulds, chairman of Halifax, said: "These results reflect further the steady progress at the Halifax, achieved while managing the continuing integration of Leeds Permanent, the planned acquisition of Clerical Medical and the proposed conversion."

The society said that its profits figures were achieved without writing off the mortgage incentives on offer to potential borrowers over several years, unlike some lenders.

Roger Boyes, group finance director, said that over the past six months these had reduced Halifax's profits by pounds 64m. Since 1994, the accumulated difference in the society's profits was pounds 295m, he added.

Retail savings balances rose by pounds 738m compared with about pounds 2.5bn last year. Mr Blackburn said this was largely due to the society informing its savers that withdrawals from their accounts would not affect their free-share distribution at de-mutualisation.

Halifax has increased the number of its current account balances to more than 1.4 million, a increase of 14 per cent. Although its share of the current account market, including high street banks, is just 3 per cent, the society claimed that its "new-to-banking" share of the market was a far higher 8 per cent.

Mr Blackburn added that the society's confidence in the current housing market meant that while it had closed 11 of its estate agency branches, it had acquired another 43 from Alliance & Leicester, mostly in the South of England.

Some 2,500 head-office staff in Halifax and Leeds have lost their jobs in the wake of the merger with Leeds Permanent last year, with more planned. But Mr Blackburn said that 1,000 jobs were being created as Halifax expands into telephone-based insurance sales.