Belfast Telegraph

First rise in credit for four years

Consumer credit is on the rise for the first time since the downturn as confidence returns amid the economic recovery, according to new figures.

A report from the EY ITEM Club suggests the popularity of buying now and paying later is improving after a four-year slump.

However, net lending to businesses is expected to have fallen this year, adding weight to fears that the recovery is too heavily balanced towards household spending.

Consumer credit has fallen by 23%, or nearly £50 billion, since 2008, but will notch up a small increase this year, according to the report.

Carl Astorri, senior economic adviser to the EY ITEM Club financial services forecast, said: "Net consumer lending is only set to grow by 1.5% this year, but it is very encouraging that it has now finally returned to growth."

He said that while the Bank of England's Funding for Lending scheme had helped banks ease credit conditions, the key driver of growth was consumer demand.

It comes amid latest official figures showing the economy grew at 0.8% in the third quarter, its fastest pace in three years.

Mr Astorri said: "As confidence in the economy improves and the housing market accelerates, consumers are more willing to borrow."

Some economists question the sustainability of a recovery led by household spending increases at a time when real wages are falling, with pay increases lagging well behind inflation.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney said last week that the recovery was heavily weighted towards households while investment and exports were still off the pace.

The new report found that lending to business increased during the second and third quarters of the year but that repayments have also increased, meaning net lending is now expected to have declined by more than 4% over the year.

It is a blow to hopes of improving finances for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to help them grow - seen as a key component of a balanced recovery.

Meanwhile the importance of the City to the UK economy looks set to expand even more, according to the report.

It predicts that the fund management industry, which already contributes just under 1% of gross domestic product will grow in size from £12 billion in 2011 to £20 billion in 2017, adding a quarter per cent to its GDP share.