Total consumer borrowing, including mortgages, reached £2.36bn in November, up from £2.1bn the previous month. The biggest increases came in borrowing on credit cards, up from £91m to £156m, and lending by specialist institutions, which rose from £138m to £200m.
City interpretations of the figures varied. Adam Cole, economist at James Capel, said there was a borrowing binge. ``These figures are very encouraging as far as consumer demand is concerned.'' Others thought the credit surge could be reconciled with evidence of hard times on the high street. James Barty, UK economist at Morgan grenfell, said: ``Retailers are competing with each other on credit deals as much as prices. Consumers have not yet emerged from the bunker.''
Further evidence that consumers are being cautious came yesterday in figures showing that new car sales in 1994 failed to reach the important 2 million mark the industry had hoped for at the start of the year.
Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders showed total sales of 1,910,933, a 7.45 per cent rise on 1993, following a disappointing second half to the year.
"Luxury cars and smaller models have sold well but the medium range has done poorly," Rob Golding, motor industry analyst at SG Warburg Securities, said. "Confidence is still not very high, especially among middle management."
Importers' share of the market last month was 51.76 per cent compared with 52.33 per cent in December 1993. Importers' share during the whole of 1994 was 57.02 per cent compared with 55.41 per cent in 1993.
David Gent, director-general of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, said the increase was created by price and margin cutting and incentive programmes.Reuse content