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[LONDON] British mortgage approvals fell last month for the first time since September but remained close to January's two-year high, Bank of England data showed on Thursday, suggesting Britain's housing market is still robust.
The BoE figures also showed lending to consumers grew slightly less than expected on the month, but still chalked up its fastest annual growth rate since December 2005.
Mortgage approvals for house purchases edged down to 73,871 in February after reaching 74,085 in January, slightly less of a fall than economists had predicted in a Reuters poll and suggesting demand from buy-to-let landlords remains strong.
Mortgage approvals have risen steadily for over a year as the initial effect of tougher residential mortgage regulation imposed in mid-2014 faded. More recently landlords have rushed to complete purchases before a tax rise takes effect in April.
House prices rose 7.9 per cent in the 12 months to January, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, their biggest increase since March 2015.
However, figures from the British Bankers' Association last week showed a small dip in approvals.
On Tuesday, the BoE urged banks to ensure credit checks on landlords did not slip as competition intensified in the buy-to-let mortgage market, and also said it would keep a watch on consumer lending, which had been driven by loans to buy cars.
Thursday's data showed net consumer lending rose by 1.287 billion pounds in February, compared with economists' forecasts for a 1.4 billion pound rise, and that year-on-year growth was 9.3 per cent, its highest since December 2005.
Net mortgage lending, which lags approvals, rose 3.648 billion pounds in February, the BoE said, while total lending to households was up 4.935 billion pounds, giving an annual growth rate of 3.7 per cent, the fastest since November 2008.
The BoE's risk watchdog said on Tuesday that total lending growth was broadly in line with that of the cash size of the economy, and that overall risks were not high.
Net sales of British government bonds by foreign investors totalled 3.016 billion pounds in February, down from 6.260 billion pounds in January.