Mortgage approvals surged in December to a four-year high, data published on Monday showed.
According to UK Finance, the banking lobby group, house purchase mortgage approvals by the main high street lenders rose to 46,815 in December from 44,058 in November, the highest number since August 2015. Analysts had been expecting the figures to remain largely flat, at around 44,000.
Gross mortgage lending across the residential market was £22.2bn in December, bringing the total for 2019 to £265.8bn, 1.1% lower than 2018’s figure. A total of 982,286 mortgages were approved, a 7.4% increase on the previous year.
Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club, said mortgage approvals would have been “significantly lifted by increased confidence and reduced uncertainties” following December’s general election.
He continued: “Prior to November, mortgage approvals for house purchases had fallen back for three successive months to be at a seven-month in October, indicating that activity was being pressurised by heightened uncertainties over the domestic political situation and Brexit.
“Housing market activity, and possibly to a lesser extent prices, could be given a modest lift in 2020 if the government introduces specific measures aimed at boosting the sector in the Budget. Furthermore, mortgage interest rates are at historically low levels; indeed there is clearly a real possibility that the Bank of England could cut interest rates in 2020.
“However, the economy still looks set for a pretty challenging 2020, so the upside for house prices is likely to be limited. Furthermore, Brexit concerns could very well pick up again as 2020 progresses, due to concerns over what will happen at the at the end of the year if the UK and European Union have failed to reach agreement on their long-term relationship.”
Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: “The jump in mortgage approvals in December likely solely reflects the stimulus provided by the sharp fall in mortgage rates in the second half of last year; the additional boost to approvals from the result of the general election is still to come. All the evidence so far points to a further rise in demand after the election. The new buyer enquiries balance of the RICS Residential Market Survey leaped in December to its highest level since January 2019.”
UK Finance also said that credit card spending rose 7.3% year-on-year to £11.8bn in December, with repayments continuing to offset spending, meaning the overall level of borrowing through cards grew at a slower rate of 2.4% annually.
Personal borrowing through loans was 14% higher year-on-year, while overdraft borrowing eased 0.8%.
Previously the British Bankers Association, UK Finance represents more than 250 firms.
By Abigail Townsend