Annual growth in consumer credit at weakest levels since 2015 in March

Annual growth in households' borrowing using personal loans, overdrafts and credit cards shrank back to its weakest levels in more than two years in March.

Consumer credit grew by 8.6% annually in March - the lowest figure seen since November 2015, according to the Bank of England's Money and Credit report.

In February, annual growth in consumer credit had stood at 9.4%.

Within consumer credit, credit card lending increased by 8.8% annually in March, while other types of non-mortgage lending grew at a slower rate of 8.4% annually.

Howard Archer, chief economic adviser at EY Item Club, said: "While March's slowdown in consumer credit growth was likely influenced significantly by retail sales and other activity being hit by the severe weather, the overall impression is that consumers have recently become more cautious in their borrowing while lenders have become warier about advancing unsecured credit."

Recent strong growth in consumer credit has prompted concerns that some households could be at risk of over-stretching themselves as interest rates continue to rise.

The Bank of England's latest Credit Conditions Survey of banks and building societies recently found lenders reined in the availability of non-mortgage credit to households in the first quarter of 2018.

The decrease was "largely driven by a changing appetite to risk", the report said previously.

The length of interest-free periods for balance transfers on new credit card lending also decreased significantly in the first quarter of this year, that survey found.

The Bank's new figures also show mortgage approvals for house purchase fell to a three-month low in March.

Some 62,914 mortgage approvals were made to home-buyers in March - the lowest figure since December 2017.

Meanwhile, 46,999 remortgage approvals were made in March, edging up compared with February but below the recent six-month average of 49,121 remortgage approvals.

Jeremy Leaf, a north London estate agent and a former residential chairman of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), said: "What we are seeing are more listings and viewings, as you would expect at this time of year, but reluctance to commit as uncertainty reigns."

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: "Lenders remain competitive with cheap mortgage deals in an effort to attract business. We don't see this situation changing anytime soon."

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