November 24, 2017 / 9:37 AM / in a year

UK mortgage approvals hit 13-month low, consumer morale ebbs

LONDON (Reuters) - British banks approved the fewest mortgages in 13 months and consumer confidence is lower than at any time since last year’s Brexit vote because of a weaker housing market, according to surveys that add to a downbeat outlook for the economy.

Property sale signs are seen outside of a group of newly built houses in west London, Britain, November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The figures came two days after chancellor Philip Hammond tried to offer voters some relief with spending plans that focused on housing, including scrapping a property purchase tax for most first-time home-buyers.

Britain’s economy has slowed this year as the higher inflation triggered by the June 2016 referendum to leave the European Union ate into households’ disposable income, leaving it lagging behind many of the economies in Europe and beyond.

On Wednesday, British budget forecasters cut sharply their growth projections over the next five years, in large part because they took a more pessimistic view about the chances of much improvement in productivity.

The housing market has cooled sharply this year and the UK Finance trade association said on Friday banks approved 40,488 mortgages for house purchase last month, down from 41,576 in September and 3 percent less than in October 2016.

“This appears to be just the start of a bigger downturn,” said Samuel Tombs, an economist at consultancy Pantheon Macroeconomics. He said the figures did not yet reflect the Bank of England’s first interest rate hike in over a decade.

The number of remortgages jumped to 34,036 from 30,499 in September as homeowners anticipated the BoE rate hike on Nov. 2.

Annual growth in credit card lending slowed, while lending to non-financial businesses dropped by a net 1.501 billion pounds, the sharpest fall since February.

“Businesses continue to exercise a cautious approach to borrowing with survey indicators showing demand for credit from smaller and medium-sized businesses falling in the third quarter,” UK Finance said in a report.

Earlier on Friday, a survey from polling company YouGov and economics consultancy Cebr showed consumer sentiment had fallen to its lowest level since just after the Brexit vote.

All eight of the index’s underlying measures weakened and a score for household finances over the past 30 days sank to its worst point since January 2014.

Christian Jaccarini, an economist at Cebr, linked the fall to factors including the first interest rate rise by the BoE in over a decade and a slowdown in the housing market.

“With these economic headwinds set to persist..., households are understandably worried,” Jaccarini said.

Additional reporting by William Schomberg; editing by Mark Heinrich

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