January 8, 2018 / 11:38 AM / 2 months ago

UK consumer lending not driven by subprime borrowers, regulators say

LONDON (Reuters) - Rapid growth in Britain’s consumer credit has been driven by borrowing by people with good credit scores, not subprime lending, according to research from regulators on Monday.

Unsecured consumer lending grew at near double-digit rates in 2016 and 2017, and concern that lenders had overestimated their borrowers’ creditworthiness led the Bank of England to tell them in September to hold 10 billion pounds ($13.54 billion) of extra capital.

However, research jointly published by Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority and a BoE blog showed that two-thirds of outstanding lending as of November 2016 was held by borrowers with credit scores in the top 30 percent. That was little changed from two years before, the researchers said.

“Given motor finance and zero-percent credit cards have accounted for a majority of consumer credit growth since 2012, this suggests much of the growth is going to the borrowers least likely to suffer financial distress,” the researchers said.

“This story is consistent with high-cost credit markets used by subprime borrowers not rapidly expanding - on the contrary, some are contracting,” they added.

The data used in the research pre-date the most recent rise in borrowing by British households, who have been squeezed for more than a year by rising inflation and stagnant wage growth.

The BoE’s latest financial stability assessment concluded in late November concluded that “pockets of risk” existed, but no overall consumer lending bubble.

However, there were signs that individual borrowers were staying indebted for longer than previously thought as they shifted debt between different products.

Some 89 percent of people holding unsecured loans in November 2016 - which included credit cards, personal loans and car finance - had held them for at least two years.

There was no sign that tighter rules on mortgage lending had led to mortgage borrowers seeking extra unsecured credit to compensate.

Not enough data were available to know if growth in unsecured lending among non-mortgage holders was led by home-owners or those renting. If renters were borrowing more, this could be a danger because they typically had less disposable income after housing costs, the regulators said.

The research was published on the FCA’s main website and a BoE blog which publicises staff research but does not necessarily represent the central bank’s official view.

(This version of the story has been refiled to remove extraneous word in seventh paragraph)

Reporting by David Milliken, editing by Larry King

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