04/01/2012 07:48 GMT

Mortgage Approvals Reach Highest Levels For Two Years

The number of approvals for new house purchases has defied expectations by rising to its highest point in almost two years, but economists warned of deals becoming more restricted as banks tighten lending conditions.

Loan approvals for house purchase rose to 52,854 in November with a total value of £7.6 billion, the second monthly rise in a row and the highest figure since December 2009, the Bank of England figures showed.

But the number of loans for remortgaging declined for the second month in a row to reach 31,154, worth £4.1 billion overall, the lowest figure since June last year.

Samuel Tombs of Capital Economics said the increase in new mortgage approvals from 52,786 a month earlier defied the widely-held expectation for a fall.

But he added: "We fear that approvals for new house purchase might soon start to fall as banks further restrict the availability, and raise the price, of credit in response to the deterioration in wholesale funding markets."

Mr Tombs told the Press Association that the remortgaging figures were an indication that this could happen.

He continued: "Indeed, with the labour market on course to deteriorate rapidly in 2012 and the eurozone crisis showing no signs of abating, it seems likely that housing market activity will remain pretty weak."

Meanwhile, the amount borrowed on credit cards was broadly unchanged in November, while other loans and advances rose by £400m, which economists suggested could be due to "stressed borrowing" in the run-up to Christmas.

David Braithwaite, director at Citrus Financial Management, suggested the fall in remortgage activity could be due to declining equity levels in homes.

He added: "Looking forward, 2012 will be about matching willing borrowers with reluctant lenders. At best we'll be moving sideways.

"The problem is that borrowers are hesitant to borrow and lenders aren't overly keen to lend - and the problem gets worse at higher loan-to-value rates, the very area where we need to see movement and improvement."

Howard Archer, chief European and UK economist at IHS Global Insight, said that, despite rising modestly in November, unsecured consumer credit remains "extremely low" compared with past levels.

He said: "The overriding impression remains that consumer appetite for new borrowing is very low while there is also a strong desire of many consumers to reduce their debt."

Meanwhile, the Building Societies Association (BSA) reported that mortgage lending by building societies and other mutuals increased to a new high, showing "resilience" in the face of tough economic conditions.

Gross mortgage lending by these lenders rose by nearly a quarter in November 2011 to £2.5 billion, when compared with the same time in 2010, the highest level since the BSA started reporting figures in this way in January 2010.

BSA director-general Adrian Coles said: "Mutuals have shown their resilience in the face of tough market conditions over the past year and have continued to see their new mortgage lending increase."