UPDATE 2-UK housing market loses some steam, eyes still on BoE

Thu May 8, 2014 10:13am EDT

Related Topics

* British house prices come in below forecast in April

* House prices +8.5 pct in 3 months to April year-on-year

* Pressure remains on BoE to act to prevent housing bubble (Updates with BoE decision, adds graphics)

By Ana Nicolaci da Costa

LONDON, May 8 (Reuters) - Britain's housing market lost some of its heat in April, data showed on Thursday, but the strength of underlying price growth kept pressure on the Bank of England to act to prevent a property bubble.

House prices fell 0.2 percent in April from March, coming in below a Reuters forecast and easing for the second straight month, mortgage lender Halifax said on Thursday.

A separate survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) also showed house prices losing some of their momentum last month.

Mortgage approvals fell more than expected for the second month in a row in March, suggesting the introduction of stricter lending rules was having an impact.

But monthly house price figures are volatile and, year-on-year, prices were still up more than 8 percent in the three months to April.

"The data are not beating consensus every month anymore, but they remain strong," said Berenberg chief UK economist Rob Wood.

"The BoE needs to act on the housing market. A supply shortage, low interest rates and government subsidies have propelled house price inflation up strongly."

A swift recovery in the housing market from a slump during the 2008-2009 financial crisis has buoyed consumer confidence a year before national elections but has also raised questions about the BoE's ability to prevent a property bubble.

The Bank's chief economist Spencer Dale said last week the central bank "should be nervous" about the housing market, and deputy governor Jon Cunliffe said it would be "dangerous" to ignore its momentum.

While officials will probably first try targeted measures to curb any overheating, rather than hiking interest rates, the issue is likely to have been discussed at the BoE's two-day monetary policy meeting.

The BoE kept interest rates at record lows of 0.5 percent, as expected.

The Bank's Financial Policy Committee meets next month and expectations are growing that it could introduce new curbs on mortgage credit.

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UK Halifax house price prices link.reuters.com/faf35v

RICS UK house price link.reuters.com/sus63v

UK house price - How far from the previous peak link.reuters.com/waf35v

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RED-HOT PRICES

House prices rose 8.5 percent in the three months to April compared with the same period a year earlier, Halifax said.

That was slower than 8.7 percent in March and below the 9.1 percent forecast in a Reuters poll.

But house prices remain elevated and are expected to rise further. April data from mortgage lender Nationwide last week showed British house prices posting their biggest annual rise since the start of the financial crisis.

The RICS survey showed the housing rebound was spreading across the country, with East Anglia and the South East showing the biggest rise in prices over the past three months.

After a strong second half of 2013, the data showed agreed sales increasing more slowly in London than in most other regions, which RICS chief economist Simon Rubinsohn said may reflect dwindling stock.

"House prices in general look set to remain firmly on the upward trend, although interestingly, there are some tentative signs that the price momentum in the London market may begin to slow in the second half of the year," he said.

London has led the rebound in the housing market, driven by demand from foreign investors as well as domestic purchasers. But BoE policymakers have said they cannot set monetary policy for the whole country based on housing momentum in the capital.

Some economists say the government should lower the 600,000-pound ceiling on properties qualifying for its Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme as a way to put a brake on price growth in London. Data shows, however, that the scheme has mostly been used to buy properties outside the capital

Mark Clare, chief executive of Barratt Developments , Britain's biggest housebuilder by volume, said any government move to dampen house prices would be "incredibly premature" and possibly damaging, especially outside London.

"It wouldn't have any effect on London because most London buyers are not using Help to Buy," he told Reuters on Thursday.

"The great danger would be we start to slow down the regions, which would be the wrong thing to do at this time when we're just starting to see recovery." (Additional Reporting by Brenda Goh; Graphics by Vincent Flasseur; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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