Number of mortgage approvals made to home buyers ‘rises higher year-on-year’

The number of mortgage approvals being made to home buyers in January was higher than at the start of 2018, according to trade association UK Finance.

But despite the increase, commentators were reluctant to conclude that the housing market is on a sustainable recovery path.

Some 29,159 home loans for house purchase got the go-ahead in January 2019 – up by 1.5% compared with January 2018.

Re-mortgaging approvals were down compared with a year earlier, with 23,618 recorded in January – a 3.1% fall.

UK Finance said the decrease in re-mortgaging follows several months of strong growth earlier in 2018, as customers took advantage of a competitive mortgage market to lock into attractive deals.

Meanwhile, there was £10.8 billion of credit card spending in January – 4.4% higher than the same month the previous year.

The outstanding level of credit card borrowing grew by 4.4% in the 12 months to January, while personal borrowing through loans and overdrafts increased by 4.7% over the same period.

Personal deposits into accounts increased at a slower rate of 0.4% annually – suggesting wage rises have not yet translated into higher levels of savings, UK Finance said.

It said deposits held in instant access rates tend to be growing at a faster rate than all deposits generally – suggesting people want to keep their cash close at hand amid ongoing economic uncertainty.

Commenting on the figures, Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: “January’s data indicate that mortgage lending is holding up much better than surveys of house buyer demand have suggested.”

But he said: “We’re reluctant to conclude, however, that housing market activity is on a sustainable recovery path.”

Mr Tombs said high loan-to-income ratios for first-time buyers mean the housing market is more sensitive to changes in interest rates than in the past.

He continued: “So, even a sluggish pace of rate hikes, following the resolution of Brexit uncertainty, will prevent mortgage approvals from recovering to pre-referendum norms over the next couple of years.”