The Bank of England has pumped up the housing market again

by Shaun Richards

Overnight there has been quite a shift in economic sentiment. To some extent I am referring to the falls in equity markets although the real issue is the new lockdown in France and increased restrictions in Germany. As we have been noting they were obviously on their way and the Euro area now looks set to see its economy contract again this quarter. It will be interesting to see how and if the ECB responds to this in today’s meeting and these feeds also into the Bank of England. The UK has tightened restrictions especially in Northern Ireland and Wales as we now wonder what more the central banks can do in response to this?

Still even in this economic storm there is something to make a central banker smile.

LONDON (Reuters) – Lloyds Banking Group LLOY.L posted forecast-beating third quarter profit on Thursday, lowering its provisions for expected bad loans due to the pandemic and cashing in on a boom in demand for mortgages.

Britain’s biggest domestic lender reported pre-tax profits of 1 billion pounds for the July-September period, compared to the 588 million pounds average of analysts’ forecasts.

Few things cheer a central banker more than an improvement in prospects for The Precious! But we can see that there is also for them a cherry on top of the icing.

The bank booked new mortgage lending of 3.5 billion pounds over the quarter, after receiving the biggest surge in quarterly applications since 2008.

That links into the theme of monetary easing which of course is claimed to help businesses but if you believe the official protestations somehow inexplicably ends up in the housing market every time. So let us look at the latest monetary data which has just been released. Oh and one point before I move on, what use are analysts who keep getting things so wrong?

Mortgages

Whoever was responsible for the Bank of England morning meeting today must have run there with a smile on their face and gone through the whole release word by word.

The mortgage market strengthened a little further in September. On net, households borrowed an additional £4.8 billion secured on their homes, following borrowing of £3.0 billion in August. This pickup in borrowing follows high levels of mortgage approvals for house purchase seen over recent months. Mortgage borrowing troughed at £0.2 billion in April, but has since recovered reaching levels slightly higher than the average of £4.0 billion in the six months to February 2020. The increase on the month reflected higher gross borrowing of £20.5 billion, although this remains below the February level of £23.4 billion.

From their perspective they will see this as a direct response to the interest-rate cuts and QE they have undertaken as net mortgage borrowing has gone from £0.2 billion in April to £4.8 billion. Something they can achieve.

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The outlook,from their perspective, looks bright as well.

The number of mortgage approvals for house purchase continued increasing sharply in September, to 91,500 from 85,500 in August (Chart 1). This was the highest number of approvals since September 2007, and is 24% higher than approvals in February 2020. Approvals in September were around 10 times higher than the trough of 9,300 approvals in May.

At this point we have what in central banking terms is quite an apparent triumph as they have lit the blue touch paper for the housing market. It has not only been them as there have also been Stamp Duty reductions but we see that there is an area of the economy that monetary policy can affect.

As to what people are paying? Here are the numbers.

The ‘effective’ interest rates – the actual interest rates paid – on newly drawn, and the outstanding stock of, mortgages were little changed in September. New mortgage rates were 1.74%, an increase of 2 basis points on the month, while the interest rate on the stock of mortgage loans fell 1 basis point to 2.13% in September.

Money Supply

Curiously the Money and Credit release does not tell us the money supply numbers these days although we do get this.

Overall, private sector companies and households increased their holdings of money in September. Sterling money (known as M4ex) increased by £10.8 billion in September; a significant rise from August which saw withdrawals of £1.0 billion (Chart 5). This is a continuation of the trend of strong deposit flows seen between March and July, albeit at a much weaker pace in comparison to the £40.5 billion monthly average seen during that period.

In essence this is part of the higher savings we have observed where people have furlough payments to keep incomes going but opportunities to spend them have been cut.

I have looked them up and annual M4 (broad money) growth was 11.6% in September. So we are seeing a push of the order of 12% which is more than in the Euro area.

Consumer Credit

Here the going has got a lot tougher and the monetary push seems to be fading already.

Household’s consumer credit weakened in September with net repayments of £0.6 billion, following some additional net borrowing in July (£1.1 billion) and August (£0.3 billion).

Actually the numbers have established something of an even declining trend since July. This means that the detail looks really rather grim.

Although the repayment in September was small in comparison to the £3.9 billion monthly average seen between March and June, this contrasts with an average of £1.1 billion of additional borrowing per month in the 18 months to February 2020. The weakness in consumer credit net flows pushed the annual growth rate down further in September to -4.6%, a new series low since it began in 1994.

In fact it is essentially repayment of credit card debt.

The net repayment of consumer credit was driven by a net repayment on credit cards of £0.6 billion

So it has an annual growth rate of -11.3% now. That is probably due to the price of it which is something of a binary situation.For those unaware there have been quite a few 0% offers in the UK for some time now but this is also true for others.

The cost of credit card borrowing was also broadly unchanged at 17.92% in September.

Although blaming the interest-rate for credit card borrowing does have the problem that overdraft interest-rates have been on quite a tear.

The effective rates – the actual interest rate paid – on interest-charging overdrafts continued to rise in September, by 3.52 percentage points to 22.52%. This is the highest since the series began in 2016, and compares to a rate of 10.32% in March 2020 before new rules on overdraft pricing came into effect.

Perhaps those that can have switched to the much cheaper personal loans.

Rates on new personal loans to individuals were little changed in September, at 4.78%, compared to an interest rate of around 7% in early 2020.

As you can see Bank of England policy has been effective in reducing the price of those.

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Comment

The present situation gives us an insight into the limits of monetary policy and as to whether we are “maxxed out”. We see that the Bank of England interest-rate cuts, QE bond purchases (another £4.4 billion this week) and credit easing can influence the housing market and personal loans. However we have also noted the way that more risky borrowers are now wondering where all the interest-rate cuts went? For example a 2 year fixed rate with a 5% deposit was 2.74% in July as the Bank of England pushed rates lower but was 3.95% in September, or a fair bit higher than before the easing ( it was typically around 3%).

So we see that monetary policy is colliding with these times even before we get out into the real economy and a reason for this can be see on this morning’s release from Lloyds Bank. Some £62.7 billion of mortgages went into payment holidays of which £9.1 billion have been further extended and £2.2 billion have missed payments. No doubt the banks fear more of this and this is why they are tightening credit for riskier borrowers which operates in the opposite direction to Bank of England policy.

So the easing gets muted and we are left mostly with the easing of credit for the government as the instrument of policy right  now.