There has been a steady stream of negative news of late about consumer spending and consumer confidence. The latest car sales figures for Northern Ireland reveal that last month was the quietest for car showrooms in eight years. Meanwhile retail sales fell at their fastest pace in almost four years in February, according to the Ulster Bank PMI. And talk of food shortages and potential tariff-induced price rises if a no-Deal Brexit comes to pass will have done little to boost consumer sentiment. However, despite all of this, when we look at figures in relation to housing – the biggest discretionary consumer spending item of all – they appear to be at odds with everything else that is going on.
The UK economy almost came to a halt in Q4 last year as mounting Brexit concerns took its toll on business investment. However, consumer spending maintains its gradual recovery, driven by higher real incomes.
Initial reports from the UK high street during the festive period were mildly encouraging. Witness stronger than expected outturns from John Lewis and Next. Still, it is premature to draw strong conclusions about retailing.
2018 was the Chinese year of the dog, but in this part of the world, it will go down as the year of the backstop, when promises around the Irish border came back to bite Theresa May. Indeed, some have said that Brexit as a whole was the one instance when the canine caught the car and then didn’t know what to do with it.
The publication of a draft EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement puts down on paper the debates of the last 18 months. Its progress is far from assured, but we were also given a glimpse of what the future might look like from the accompanying political declaration. Here’s our take on the key points along with the latest UK data.
UK growth has picked up a bit of speed in Q3, judging from latest monthly GDP figures, with strength widespread. However, recent favourable weather flattered the headline rate, so a moderation in growth looks likely in Q4.
Stronger than expected UK inflation data increases the odds of another modest BoE rate hike next year, but the impasse in latest EU/UK Brexit talks means a BoE move is unlikely before spring 2019, at the earliest.
The US economy is humming and wage pressures are building, keeping the Fed on track for another modest tightening in September. UK growth, however, remains lacklustre with manufacturing in the doldrums. A BoE rate hike appears a distant prospect.
The latest set of mortgage statistics from UK Finance reveal further signs of buoyancy in the Northern Ireland housing market.
The first-time buyer market continues to post double-digit growth year-on-year. 2,700 new home-owners took out a mortgage in Q2 2018, that’s up 12.5% y/y and the highest figure since Q4 2005. Meanwhile the size of the loan advanced to new home-purchasers hit £100,000 for the first time.
Significant deposits remain a feature of the mortgage market for first-time buyers. The median deposit for both NI & UK first-time buyers currently stands at £17,000. That equates to three-quarters of the median annual salary of a full-time Northern Ireland employee aged 25-34 years of age. Few thirty year olds (the average age of a first-time buyer) can avail of this sort of cash without assistance from the so-called Bank of Mum & Dad / Bank of Grandmum & Grandad.
Unlike the first-time buyer market, growth in the home mover market remains lacklustre. The legacy of negative equity and little or no equity continue to act as a drag on this area of the market.
Only 1,600 loans were advanced for people moving house in Northern Ireland during Q2 2018. This represented a rise of 7% y/y but compares with a quarterly average of 4,000 for the decade 1997-2006.
Remortgage activity, which accounts for one-third of mortgage activity, has also been on the rise. The number of loans remained flat at an eight-and-a-half year high of 2,300 in Q2 2018. This represented a rise of 10% y/y but is still only one-third of the volume of remortgage activity that occurred between 2005-2008.
Overall, activity in Northern Ireland’s mortgage market continues to recover from the biggest property downturn in UK history. The first-time buyer market is driving this growth which in turn is being supported by individuals with access to sizeable deposits.
As far as deposits are concerned, the would-be first-time buyer market is being split into haves and have nots. For an increasing number of aspirational home-owners, saving for a deposit is particularly challenging within the context of ongoing house price growth, strong rent inflation, modest wage growth and rising utility bills.