Wall St slump continues amid record rise in British lending

The Dow Jones Industrial Average continued to plunge yesterday amid continuing fears of higher interest rates. It closed down 94 points at 6517.01 in a late sell-off.

A sharp rise in British consumer lending to a record pounds 1.22bn in February fuelled the concerns. The surge in UK lending, coming after an increase of pounds 844m in January, was much higher than expected, rekindling fears of a return to the 1980s consumer boom. But the FTSE 100 index largely shrugged off volatility on Wall Street, ending down just 11.5 at 4,236.6.

Analysts said the credit figures increased the need for the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, whoever he was, to raise interest rates after the election by as much as half a per cent. David Coleman, chief economist at CIBC, said: "Consumer borrowing continues to grow at quite a healthy pace. It keeps the pressure on whoever is the next Chancellor to raise rates just as the US has done." The US move to raise money costs by a quarter of a per cent last week raised expectations that further tightening may be necessary.

But observers stopped short of comparing current credit conditions with those of the 1980s, with many pointing out that in percentage terms the borrowing rise is still below previous peaks and savings remain high. They also drew some comfort from Bank of England money supply figures which showed M0 growing by 6.4 per cent in the year to March, just below expectations of a 6.5 per cent increase.

On the broader M4 measure, growth was revised down to 11.2 per cent from 11.3 for the year to February, but still up from 10 per cent in January.