House prices leapt by 3.9 percent, their biggest one-month rise
since October 2002 and far outstripping forecasts of a rise of 0.7
percent after two months of falls.
The news came shortly before the Bank of England held benchmark
interest rates at a record low 0.5 percent, and contrasts with
recent figures showing a falling number of mortgage approvals, which
typically heralds slower price increases.
While the central bank has, for now, ruled out raising rates to curb
rising house prices, its Financial Policy Committee is widely
expected to recommend a further tightening in mortgage lending
standards after it meets later this month.
"Expectations of house price gains are still elevated, and the FPC
should act to prevent any further loosening of mortgage terms," said
Matthew Pointon, property economist at consultancy Capital
Halifax said house prices in the three months to May were 8.7
percent higher than a year earlier, matching March's rate of growth,
which was the fastest since September 2007, though less than the
11.1 percent rise reported by rival lender Nationwide.
It also noted that the number of home sales was falling, and that
this was making monthly price changes more volatile.
STEADY UPWARD TREND
Over the three months to May, prices were 2.0 percent higher, in
line with the trend that has been in place since June last year.
"Housing demand is still strong and continues to be supported by a
strengthening economic recovery," said Stephen Noakes, Halifax's
mortgages director, adding that low interest rates and falling
unemployment were boosting consumer morale.
However, weak wage growth and a revival in private-sector
housebuilding - which was up by a third in the year to March - might
temper price rises in the longer term, Noakes said.
[to top of second column]
House prices stand at almost five times average full-time male
earnings, a level last exceeded in mid-2008, Halifax said.
Data on Wednesday showed that the average person taking out a
mortgage was buying a house worth more than four times his or her
Lloyds Banking Group, Halifax's parent company, said last month that
it would not lend more than 500,000 pounds ($837,700) at multiples
greater than four times earnings, and this week Royal Bank of
Scotland followed suit.
In late April, regulators required lenders to make closer checks of
potential borrowers' spending patterns and to check they could
afford mortgage payments if interest rates rose.
The BoE's Financial Policy Committee holds a quarterly meeting later
this month, and economists say it could recommend other lenders
adopt similar measures or hold more capital against high
loan-to-value and loan-to-income mortgages. ($1 = 0.5969 British
(Reporting by David Milliken; editing by Michael Holden, John
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.