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UK consumers rein in borrowing as Brexit looms

The annual growth rate in unsecured consumer lending weakened to 6.6% from 7.2% in Nov 2018

London

LENDING to British consumers grew at its slowest pace in four years in December, Bank of England data showed on Wednesday, underscoring the loss of momentum in the economy ahead of Brexit.

The annual growth rate in unsecured consumer lending weakened to 6.6 per cent from 7.2 per cent in November, the smallest increase since December 2014, the BOE figures showed.

There have been signs from many retailers that British households reined in their spending at the end of last year, faced with the possibility of the country leaving the European Union without a deal to smooth the economic shock.

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Prime Minister Theresa May says she will seek changes to the Brexit deal she struck with other EU leaders last year but they have ruled out major alterations, leaving open the prospect of a no-deal Brexit in less than two months' time.

The BOE said the number of mortgages approved for house purchases edged down to 63,793 in December, the lowest number since April but above a median forecast of 63,000 in a Reuters poll of economists.

Britain's housing market stumbled in 2018 and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said earlier this month that its members had the most negative outlook for house sales over the coming three months since its records began in 1999.

BOE governor Mark Carney has warned that in the event of a "disorderly" departure from the EU - which is not the central bank's base-case scenario - house prices could slump by 30 per cent as part of a broader economic shock.

The BOE data showed net mortgage lending, which tends to lag behind approvals, at £4.112 billion (S$7.27 billion) in December, up from £3.631 billion pounds in November.

The figures also showed a £687 million increase in unsecured lending, the weakest increase since March of last year and below economists' forecasts of a rise of £800 million.

Credit card lending rose by just £92 million, the smallest increase since September 2014.

The BOE also said net gilt purchases by foreign investors totalled £11.960 billion in December, compared with £2.418 billion in November. REUTERS