LONDON — U.K. house prices fell by 1.1% annually in February, their first annual decline since June 2020 and the sharpest contraction since November 2012, according to a widely-watched report from building society Nationwide.
February saw a 0.5% month-on-month fall, with prices now 3.7% lower than their August 2022 peak as higher mortgage rates and a cost-of-living crisis continued to deter homebuying.
“The recent run of weak house price data began with the financial market turbulence in response to the mini-Budget at the end of September last year,” said Nationwide Chief Economist Robert Gardner in a press release on Wednesday.
“While financial market conditions normalised some time ago, housing market activity has remained subdued.”
Mortgage rates soared in September 2022 after former Prime Minister Liz Truss’ disastrous tax-cutting “mini-budget” prompted a historic sell-off in the U.K. government bond market, eventually leading to a Bank of England intervention and Truss’ resignation after 44 days in office.
February’s fall likely reflects the lingering damage to confidence and squeeze on household incomes, with inflation continuing to outpace wage growth and mortgage rates remaining substantially higher than their 2021 lows, Gardner explained.
“It will be hard for the market to regain much momentum in the near term since economic headwinds look set to remain relatively strong, with the labour market widely expected to weaken as the economy shrinks in the quarters ahead, while mortgage rates remain well above the lows prevailing in 2021,” he said.
Mortgage payments on a typical home remain well above the long run average as a share of take-home pay for a prospective first-time buyer earning the average income, Nationwide noted.
Meanwhile, deposit requirements remain “prohibitively high” in the context of the rising cost of living and a steep increase in private renting costs.
The latest Bank of England figures on Wednesday showed U.K. mortgage approvals fell in January to their lowest since 2009 excluding the Covid-19 pandemic period, with net mortgage lending to individuals decreasing to £2.5 billion ($3 billion) from £3.1 billion in December.
Net mortgage approvals fell for a fifth consecutive month to 39,600, the lowest since January 2009 excluding the pandemic era in which the housing market came to a standstill.
“However, conditions should gradually improve if inflation moderates in the coming months as expected, easing pressure on household budgets,” Gardner said.
“Solid gains in nominal incomes together with weak or declining house prices will also support housing affordability, especially if mortgage rates edge lower in the coming month.”
Analysts have forecast house price declines for the year of 10% to as much as 30% in one scenario.
Shares of U.K. housebuilders fell across the board on Wednesday morning, led by a 9% plunge for Persimmon.
Andrew Sheets, chief cross-asset strategist at Morgan Stanley, told CNBC on Wednesday that falling house prices showed that central banks’ tightening of monetary policy in order to contain inflation was beginning to work.
“I think this is telling us that monetary policy is acting with a lag but it’s also acting in a relatively straightforward and predictable manner in slowing home price appreciation, in weakening home prices, and we think this is one of several headwinds to the U.K. economy, so we continue to be below consensus in our forecasts for U.K. growth this year,” he said, adding that the weakness was part of a “global trend.”
“We’re also seeing the previously resilient U.S. housing market also now seeing weakness as interest rates have risen and these are some large interest rate rises — these are some of the largest rises in mortgage rates that the U.K. consumer or the U.S. consumer has seen over the last 30 years, over the last 12 months, and it is going to have an effect.”