LONDON (Reuters) – British consumers increased their borrowing at the weakest pace in nearly three years last month, and foreign holdings of British government debt fell by a record amount, Bank of England data showed on Thursday.
Twinned with a small fall in mortgage approvals, the consumer borrowing figures are likely to fuel concerns of a soft economy ahead of Brexit, while the net gilt sales may add to worries about the funding of Britain’s current account deficit.
Foreign investors’ holdings of UK gilts fell by 17.2 billion pounds in July, up sharply from 1.4 billion pounds in June and the highest since records began in July 1982, driven in part by a large volume of maturing bonds.
In July, Prime Minister Theresa May set out her first detailed proposals for the terms on which Britain will leave the European Union in March next year, prompting two of her senior ministers to resign.
“This (fall) underlines the importance of managing the UK’s exit from the EU as smoothly as possible, especially given the on-going need to help finance the UK’s current account deficit,” Jefferies economist David Owen wrote in a note to clients.
Annual consumer credit growth slowed to 8.5 percent in July from 8.8 percent in June, the weakest since November 2015.
In month-on-month terms, net consumer lending rose by 817 million pounds, down from 1.521 billion in June and below all forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists.
“July’s data reinforces the impression that consumers are currently relatively cautious in their borrowing while lenders have certainly become warier about advancing unsecured credit,” said Howard Archer, economist at consultants EY Item Club.
Despite a recent fillip from unusually hot weather and the soccer World Cup, British consumer spending growth has slowed since 2016 due to higher inflation and limited wage growth.
Mortgage approvals for house purchases softened to 64,768 from 65,374, slightly below economists’ forecasts of a dip to 65,000 in a Reuters poll.
Last week industry body UK Finance reported a fall in the number of approvals for house purchase in July, though gross mortgage lending increased as existing home-owners sought to lock in cheaper interest rates before the BoE raised its main rate in August.
British house price growth has slowed this year, mostly due to falling prices in much of central London, where demand has been hit by higher purchase taxes on expensive homes and reduced foreign investor appetite since 2016’s Brexit vote.
On Wednesday a Reuters poll of housing market analysts showed that on average they saw a nearly one in three chance of a significant correction in the British capital’s property market before the end of 2019, though their central scenario was for a much smaller fall in prices.