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Britain tries to rein in housing market

English.news.cn   2014-05-22 07:51:36

LONDON, May 21 (Xinhua) -- The latest mortgage lending leap in Britain has fueled more concerns on housing market, while various consumer groups, politicians and economists have called for measures to cool the rising property prices.

The gross mortgage lending in Britain was an estimated 16.6 billion pounds (28 billion U.S. dollars) in April, 36 percent higher than in the same period last year, the country's leading mortgage lenders body said Wednesday.

The figure was 8 percent higher month-on-month and the highest for an April since 2008, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML).

The figures came amid the debate on cooling the housing market, after average house prices increased 8 percent in the past year and 17 percent in London, according to the latest data by the Office for National Statistics.

Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England (BoE) has given his strongest warning yet about the dangers to Britain's economy posed by the booming housing market.

Carney said the market represents the "biggest risk" to financial stability and the long-term recovery, and the central bank was "closely watching" rising property prices and the subsequent increase in large-value mortgages, which he warned could lead to a "debt overhang" that could destabilize the economy.

British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his support to Carney's remarks, saying he "agree(s) with every thing he said in his interview" on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday.

However, some economists suggested that the "Help to Buy" program might be blamed for fuelling the house prices.

Launched since last April, "Help to Buy" program which allows people to buy a home valued at as much as 600,000 pounds (1.01 billion U.S. dollars) with a 5-percent deposit has been facing renewed criticism.

But Cameron defended the program, saying it is "well-targeted" and mainly helping people outside London to buy homes.

The prime minister said the government has authorised the Bank of England and financial policy committee the "tool and responsibility to call out any problem in our economy, and any bubble in our economy and to act on them."

The British central bank plans to make an assessment in September to judge whether the government should maintain part of the "Help to Buy" scheme that has provided access to high loan-to-value mortgages.

The BoE also will push banks to mull over whether new borrowers could cope with much higher interest rates, making banks hold more capital against certain types of mortgages, or place caps on how large mortgages can be compared to a borrower's income.

CML chief economist Bob Pannell commented that "the Bank of England has signaled that macro-prudential measures to limit the housing market upturn are likely in the near future, and possibly in the very near future."

"Forthcoming measures will, in our estimation, be careful, calibrated, and proportionate, and designed to reinforce prudent affordability checks, rather than to apply the brakes to the housing market in a more dramatic fashion," he added.

The government's efforts to rein in housing market are also echoed by other stakeholders. Last month, the Financial Conduct Authorities introduced a new regulation called "Mortgage Market Review", which placed a greater emphasis on affordability of buyers.

The British biggest mortgage lender, Lloyds, has decided to clamp down on high-risk loans in London where if a borrower is seeking a loan of more than half million pounds, it would apply a limit of no more than four times income.

Lloyds had already sharply cut back its exposure to new lending in London. In 2013, lending in the capital accounted for 16 percent of the new mortgages advanced by the bank, compared with 31 percent in 2008.

Some economists pointed out that it was obvious that a rise in interest rates could effectively cool the housing market, however, the BoE had ruled out the option as it did not want to derail a recovery that was more fragile in other parts of the economy. The central bank had to take cautious measures to tackle the soaring housing prices.

Savills, a leading real estate services provider, expected a higher average base rate forecast for 2015 in its recent reach, saying that "the interest rate rises mean there simply isn't the capacity for current levels of house price growth to continue."

Lucian Cook, Director of Residential Research of Savills, said "As more mortgage buyers come back to the market and interest rates rise, that will slow the pace of house price growth."

Editor: Yamei Wang
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