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The Bank of England spares homeowners

The Bank of England spared homeowners back-to-back interest rate rises today against a background of turmoil in financial markets caused by the growing crisis over US sub-prime mortgages and recent sharp falls in global stock markets.

As it did so the Halifax released data showing that the housing market appeared to be reasonably robust in spite of the five interest rate rises over the past year. The Bank's monetary policy committee had been expected to leave rates at 5.75% as it assesses whether the previous rate rises are succeeding in its attempt to cool the economy.

While oil prices retreated from their peaks today, with US light crude futures back below $77 a barrel and stock markets clawed back some of Wednesday's falls, most analysts say there is further volatility ahead as credit markets and the private equity industry adjust to a higher interest rate environment.

In Frankfurt, European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet signalled the bank would raise interest rates again next month. Speaking after the ECB's monthly meeting at which it held rates steady at 4%, Mr Trichet warned of "strong vigilance" on inflation. He pointed to "rising oil prices, emerging capacity constraints and the potential for stronger wage and cost dynamics" as "upside risks" to price stability in the medium term.

The Halifax said that house prices rose 0.7% last month, up from 0.4% the month before and 0.2% in May. The latest rise took the annual rate of increase up to 11.2% from 10.7% in June. But Halifax chief economist Martin Ellis said the fact that this was the fourth consecutive month in which prices had grown at less than 1% was proof of a slowdown in response to the interest rate rises.

The Halifax report contrasted with that of the Nationwide last week which suggested prices rose only 0.1% in July. Howard Archer, chief UK economist at Global Insight, said the Halifax figures were "surprisingly perky", but cautioned against reading too much into one survey.

"We believe that the overall evidence indicates that the housing market has peaked and is gradually and erratically coming off the boil as demand is increasingly pressurised by the rising affordability pressures stemming from higher interest rates, modest real disposable income growth and elevated house prices."

Source: The Guardian
Date: 03.08.2007 [65]
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