UK house prices surge again

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by Charles Hugh-Smith

One economic story of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the surge in house prices.Only yesterday we took a look at the way the US Federal Reserve is trying to manage public expectations.  Today we see a further challenge for the vigilant Bank of England.

Annual house price growth accelerated to 13.4% in June,
the highest outturn since November 2004. While the
strength is partly due to base effects, with June last year
unusually weak due to the first lockdown, the market
continues to show significant momentum. Indeed, June saw
the third consecutive month-on-month rise (0.7%), after
taking account of seasonal effects. Prices in June were almost 5% higher than in March. ( Nationwide)

As you can see they have had a go at doing the Bank of England’s job for it with the mention of what we prefer to call exit effects. But the final sentence rather torpedoes that effort as it points out prices are up nearly 5% since March.

The Nationwide has another go here.

Despite the increase in house prices to new all-time highs,
the typical mortgage payment is not high by historic
standards compared to take home pay, largely because
mortgage rates remain close to all-time lows.

The problem is that for the more thoughtful that is a reminder that mortgage rates and hence interest-rates cannot rise by much without causing what Taylor Swift would describe as “trouble,trouble,trouble”. Also it is kind of them to point out that mortgage payments are a third of take-home pay reinforcing the insanity of the targeted inflation measure ( CPI) ignoring this area. Also in spite of their efforts to tell us everything is fine they cannot avoid a consequence in terms of capital required.

However, house prices are close to a record high relative to
average incomes. This is important because it makes it even
harder for prospective first time buyers to raise a deposit. For example, a 10% deposit is over 50% of typical first time
buyer’s income.

Stamp Duty

We got a hint of what will happen when the holiday here is over from Scotland.

But conditions were more muted in Scotland, which saw a
modest increase in annual growth to 7.1% (from 6.9% last
quarter) and was also the weakest performing part of the UK.
This may reflect that the stamp duty (LBTT) holiday in
Scotland ended on 31 March.

So still growth but much slower reminding us that such holidays simply seem to add any tax gain to prices. So the real winners are in fact existing owners.

By contrast Northern Ireland at 14% and Wales at 13.4% led the rises and would presumably be higher now if we had June numbers rather than quarterly ones.

Mortgages

The Nationwide points out that there has been anther official effort to juice the mortgage market.

The improving availability of mortgages for those with a
small deposit (and the continued availability of the
government’s Help to Buy equity loan scheme) is helping
some people over the deposit hurdle, but it is still very
challenging for most.

Maybe that was in play at least in part in the latest mortgage data from the Bank of England.

Net mortgage borrowing bounced back to £6.6 billion in May. This followed variability in the previous couple of months in anticipation of the reduction in stamp duty ending, which has been extended to the end of June. Net borrowing was £3.0 billion in April, following a record £11.4 billion of net borrowing in March

So a bounce back from these numbers compared to April.

Net borrowing in May was slightly higher than the monthly average for the six months to April 2021 and above the average of £4.2 billion in the year to February 2020.

So a combination of the stamp duty extension and an attempt to make more low deposit mortgages available has pumped up the volume.

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If we look further down the chain we see this.

Approvals for house purchases increased slightly in May to 87,500, from 86,900 in April. They have fallen from a recent peak of 103,200 in November, but remain above pre-February 2020 levels. Approvals for remortgage (which only capture remortgaging with a different lender) rose slightly to 34,800 in May, from 33,400 in April. This remains low compared to the months running up to February 2020.

So a small rise and Neal Hudson has looked back for some perspective on them.

Mortgage approvals for house purchase were still 32% higher than recent average (2014-19) in May.

Savings

These are another factor in the game because we have seen them soar in the pandemic era as some received furlough payments whilst having lower bills ( no commuting) and less ability to spend due to lockdown. In spite of the increased freedoms it still seems to be happening.

Households deposited an additional £7.0 billion with banks and building societies in May. The net flow has fallen in recent months, and compares to an average net flow of £16.5 billion in the six months to April 2021  and a series peak of £27.6 billion in May 2020. The flow is nevertheless relatively strong – in the year to February 2020, the average inflow was £4.7 billion. ( Bank of England)

So there is money potentially available for house purchase deposits from this source as prospective buyers boost savings or perhaps the bank of mum and dad is more flush with funds.

Whilst we are on the subject of saving we saw more from another source as people who could increased their rate of mortgage repayment.

Gross lending was a little higher at £24.2 billion, while gross repayments dropped to £18.9 billion.

That was of course another example of central bank policy misfiring as a type of precautionary saving acted in the opposite direction to the hoped for one. We see this a lot well except in central banking research.

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Consumer Credit

If we look back to the heady pre credit crunch days we can recall that even this area was deployed to boost housing credit as people were able to sign their own income chits. More recently that has been unlikely as we have seen falls but of you hear feet hammering on the floor earlier it was probably at the Bank of England as staff rushed to be first to inform Governor Andrew Bailey about this.

However, for the first time since August 2020, consumers borrowed more than they paid off in May, with net borrowing of £0.3 billion.

We even got some detail from the numbers which is rare. Regular readers will know I have been keen to track car finance movements but we only get an occasional glimpse behind the curtains.

The increase in net consumer credit reflected an additional £0.4 billion of ‘other’ forms of consumer credit, such as car dealership finance and personal loans. Credit card lending remained weak compared to pre-February 2020 levels, with a net repayment of £0.1 billion.

Comment

The monetary push from the Bank of England goes on as we note the reason for the Nationwide being able to claim that mortgage repayments are affordable.

The rate on the outstanding stock of mortgages remained unchanged at a series low of 2.07%……..The ‘effective’ rate – the actual interest rate paid – on newly drawn mortgages rose 2 basis points to 1.90% in May.

It was no surprise we saw a nudge higher in May but since then not much has happened in terms of bond yields and hence fixed-rate mortgages. As to supply of mortgages we saw the Bank of England funnel cash to the banks only for the furlough schemes to mean they had plenty of new deposits too.

As ever Bank of England research is focused on this area and if you read between the lines you see that banks rip customers off if they can. Their way of explaining that is highlighted below.

What drives these patterns of customer choices and price dispersion? We show that customers facing large price dispersion are typically those borrowing large amounts relative to both their income and the value of their house. These tend to be younger customers, and are more likely to be buying a house for the first time. Lenders thus price discriminate, offering menus with greater price dispersion to customers who may be less able to identify and avoid expensive options, or have fewer options to go elsewhere.

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