Bank of England cuts mortgage support to avoid bubble

Bank of England says it will refocus Funding for Lending scheme on helping smaller firms

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 November, 2013, 4:27am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 November, 2013, 4:27am

The Bank of England moved to head off the risk of a bubble in house prices yesterday, making a surprise announcement that it would put the brakes on a scheme launched last year to boost mortgage lending.

Shares in British construction firms tumbled after the central bank said it would refocus the Funding for Lending Scheme on helping small companies that find it hard to borrow.

Britain's economy and its housing market have staged an unexpectedly strong turnaround since the scheme was launched by the bank and finance ministry in July last year to spur lending to home-buyers and businesses.

Another, much-criticised, government programme to aid the housing market, Help to Buy, remains in place.

"We did not see an immediate threat coming from the housing market but we are concerned about the prospective evolution of the housing market," BOE governor Mark Carney said.

"The concern is where this could go. We definitely see some short-term momentum," he said, adding the BOE was prepared to take "larger measures" to tame rising house prices if needed.

Carney said it would "no longer be appropriate or necessary for us to have our foot on the accelerator" in terms of spurring mortgage lending. "It's better to shift into neutral."

Sterling rose after the announcement, while construction firms lost more than £1 billion (HK$12.6 billion) in value.

Barratt Developments, the country's biggest housebuilder by volume, saw its shares slump by as much as 9.6 per cent.

Finance Minister George Osborne said he backed the changes to the scheme.

British house prices are likely to rise nearly 6 per cent next year on top of a similar increase this year, according to a poll of economists published this week.

James Knightley, an economist with ING, said the shift in policy was not a precursor to an interest rate increase by the BOE, which has kept borrowing costs at a record low since 2009.

"Such measures have been undertaken elsewhere, and there the sense is that by taking such action it can actually limit the need for direct monetary policy tightening," Knightley said.

A representative of mortgage lenders said the industry was well placed to cope without the scheme's support.

"Although the changes to the [scheme] may be a surprise, they are not a shock. Mortgage lenders are well equipped to meet their funding needs," said Paul Smee, the director general of the Council of Mortgage Lenders.