Carney moves to tighten mortgage lending

“So Mark Carney has gone on record as saying the booming housing market represents the biggest risk to Britain’s economic recovery,” says Katie Allen on Guardian.co.uk.

The Bank of England governor said last week that soaring house prices – up 10.9% year-on-year in April, according to Nationwide – are rising too fast and are a danger both to growth and financial stability.

But as the “age-old management maxim” goes: “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” So what exactly do Carney and his colleagues at the Bank propose to do to defuse the threat?

It’s easy to say what he’s not planning to do, notes Matthew Holehouse in The Daily Telegraph. “Carney came close to ruling out using interest rates to cool the housing market, saying monetary policy is the ‘last line of defence’.”

With the recovery still in its early stages and significant spare capacity still in the economy, policymakers are nervous about choking off growth by raising rates too soon. “Instead, the bank will use a range of new powers to intervene, including tightening the rules on mortgage lending.”

Alternatives to raising rates could include tougher “stress tests” on the ability of borrowers to repay, forcing banks to set aside more capital against mortgages – possibly targeted against loans in specific hotspots – and a curtailing of the government’s Help to Buy scheme, says Brian Milligan on BBC.co.uk.

But as Carney noted, the “deep, deep structural problems” with the supply of new houses in the UK are partly to blame for the price rises. This suggests that moves to increase construction must also play a role in letting the air out of the bubble.

Another key step would be to reform the tax system, argues Hugo Dixon on Breakingviews.com. “At present, housing is massively undertaxed compared to other assets.” An annual percentage charge on their value would force people to think about whether they need such big houses. And a larger one targeted at non-resident foreign owners could cool the London market.

In addition, there should be powers for the Bank to cap the size of a mortgage relative to the value of the property, plus an end to the “foolish” policy of Help to Buy. “None of these measures would be popular. But failure to act will cause much more damage in the long term.”

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