LONDON (Reuters) - The Bank of England is most likely to try and cool Britain’s booming housing market by using one of the more radical options in its toolbox, a cap on how large mortgages can be compared to a borrower’s income, a Reuters poll found.
House prices have surged 11 percent over the past year, raising concerns among policymakers that it could be overheating.
This prompted British finance minister George Osborne last week to give the BoE’s Financial Policy Committee stronger powers to curb mortgage lending, enabling it to compel lenders to act rather than to just make recommendations to the sector.
While economists polled in the past week were united in saying the FPC would act to reduce the risks that the housing market poses to financial stability when it meets on Tuesday, they were less sure about what moves it would make.
The moves will be announced on June 26 alongside the FPC’s half-yearly financial stability report.
The likeliest option among economists polled by Reuters was for the BoE to recommend that lenders limit how much they lend as a ratio of a borrower’s income. This could be politically sensitive in the run-up to a national election in May 2015 because it may make it harder for first time-buyers to get on the property ladder.
Until recently, the FPC had been expected to take measures which affect home-buyers less directly, for example, by requiring banks to hold more capital against home loans.
“They could look at loan-to-income ratios and either ask banks to increase the capital that they hold against new lending which is at a high loan-to-income ratio or put forward a recommendation that banks restrict the lending they do,” Allan Monks, JP Morgan’s UK economist.
A loan-to-income cap was seen by 14 of the 29 economists polled.
Smaller numbers said the BoE would make lenders hold more capital against certain types of mortgages, limit how many higher risk loans a bank could issue, or ask the government to cut the 600,000 pound ceiling on its Help to Buy scheme which aids buyers unable to pay large deposits.
Since April, mortgage lenders have been required to make stricter checks on a borrower’s ability to repay, which has slowed the process of giving loans and which lenders prefer to relatively crude loan-to-income caps. A further option for the FPC would be to make those checks tougher.
With predicted gains of 8 percent this year and a still robust 5 percent in 2015, all of the economists in the poll who answered an extra question said the Bank would act. [GB/HOMES]
Governor Mark Carney cautioned last week that average household debt was 140 percent of disposable income - higher than in most other countries.
With the average asking price for a home at 272,275 pounds in June according to property website Rightmove - around 10 times the typical British salary - that ratio is unlikely to come down anytime soon.
Data from the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday showed that UK house prices rose 9.9 percent year on year in April, marking the biggest rise since June 2010.
BoE Governor Mark Carney said last week Britain’s economy still had room to grow without pushing up inflation, but added he saw little sign yet of a slowdown in the pace of expansion that the central bank had pencilled in for the second half of the year.
Tuesday’s poll suggested the economy, after expanding 0.8 percent in the current quarter, would then grow 0.6-0.7 percent per quarter, little-changed from a May poll. It indicated that inflation would reach the Bank’s 2.0 percent target early next year - just when economists expect policy to be tightened.
The Bank of England is reluctant to raise interest rates too fast - or too soon - in case it chokes off the recovery, and a Reuters poll on Friday found interest rates will start rising in the first quarter of 2015.
That poll was taken the day after Carney said rates may rise sooner than markets expect and gave an earlier consensus than a May 28 poll which predicted the first hike would come in the second quarter of next year.
Such a move would make Britain the first major economy to tighten policy since the 2008 financial crisis.
Last year the BoE said monetary policy would remain unchanged until unemployment fell to 7 percent, something it thought would take around three years to reach.
But that guidance was abandoned after just six months as unemployment sank and the Bank said it would instead focus on a wide range of measures, including how much spare capacity the economy had.
It reckons there is around 1-1.5 percent slack, and just over half of the economists polled in the past week agreed with that, despite it being something very hard to measure.
“Arguing about the true underlying measure of spare capacity is a bit like arguing about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin,” said Peter Dixon at Commerzbank.
“However ... the degree of spare capacity must be slightly smaller than when the BoE first gave its estimate in February.”
Polling by Tomojit Basu and Kailash Bathija; Editing by Hugh Lawson