Mortgage approvals in Hong Kong rebounded 22.8 per cent last month, helped by the launch of new projects and an easing of requirements for home loan applicants. Approvals for residential mortgages dropped 5.9 per cent to 110,186 cases for the whole of last year, but the total value of new mortgages rose 5.8 per cent to HK$226.2 billion. According to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, approvals for housing loans increased 22.8 per cent to HK$10.4 billion last month from HK$8.48 billion in November. The number of new applications grew 14.8 per cent, the banking regulator said. The authority believes that the rise was mainly attributable to the increase in approvals for primary-market transactions. Banks in Hong Kong approved HK$2.23 billion of new mortgages in the primary market last month, up 71.3 per cent from HK$1.33 billion in November. The value of new housing loans in the secondary market jumped 18.8 per cent. The growth offset the HK$114 million reduction in refinancing loans approved during the month. Hendrick Leung Lee-chung, the director and general manager of Centaline Finance, said the rebound in housing loans last month stemmed from more new projects coming on line, such as the launch in November of Sino Land's Vista in Sham Shui Po. 'The other reason is banks have eased requirements for housing loans after the Hong Kong Mortgage Corp relaxed the threshold for mortgage insurance last month,' Mr Leung said. 'It encouraged banks to lend more.' He expected new approvals for housing loans to continue to rise this month as the property market turned more active last month. The Land Registry said transactions in the secondary market rose 21 per cent to 3,969 deals last month compared with November. However, mReferral chief economic analyst Sharmaine Lau expected the total value of new mortgages this year would drop 10 per cent year on year because of poor sentiment in the property market. Leading banks such as HSBC Holdings, Bank of China (Hong Kong) and Standard Chartered (Hong Kong) kept their benchmark lending rates and savings deposit rates unchanged. Peter Wong Tung-shun, the executive director of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp, the Asia-Pacific unit of HSBC, said there was no room for banks to increase mortgage rates. However, he did not rule out the possibility that some banks might cut their mortgage rates amid fierce competition. 'The room for a mortgage rate cut is also limited by the current operating environment,' he said, adding it was unhealthy for banks to cut mortgage rates sharply to attract business. Meanwhile, developers have begun to cut the prices of units at their projects to lure potential buyers. Property agents said Cheung Kong (Holdings) had cut the asking prices for the eight remaining flats at Sausalito in Ma On Shan by 10 per cent to between HK$4,500 and HK$5,000 per square foot, similar to the prices in the secondary market. Wheelock Properties also cut the asking prices for 10 remaining flats at Bellagio in Sham Tseng by 15 per cent, based on the price list it released two years ago.