Government bank bailout is welcomed but is not seen as enough to rescue housing market

Housebuilders have called for more help for struggling first-time buyers in the wake of the government’s latest rescue package for the banks.

The bailout, announced on Monday, is intended to give banks the confidence to lend by insuring toxic assets, guaranteeing highly-rated investments and injecting further cash into the sector.

The package implements the recommendation of the Crosby review, published in November, that the government should guarantee AAA-rated securities, including mortgages, from April. The Treasury will also insure banks against future losses on “toxic” assets, like mortgages. Banks pay a fee for the insurance, take responsibility for a portion of losses and pledge to lend to credit-worthy borrowers.

Alan Cherry, chairman of housebuilder Countryside Properties, welcomed the package but said house prices would have to stabilise before the market could improve. He said more help was needed for first-time buyers beyond the loan scheme, HomeBuy Direct, already announced by government.

“Banks and building societies do not seem to have welcomed HomeBuy Direct. The first-time buyers’ initiative administered by English Partnerships was far more successful.” He added that stamp duty should be waived for one or two years.

David Pretty, former chief executive of Barratt and chairman of the New Homes Marketing Board, called for a national savings deposit scheme for first-time buyers.

Vicky Redwood, UK economist at consultancy Capital Economics, said the package might make it easier for banks to lend but that they might be discouraged by the prospect that borrowers could lose their jobs.

She added: “First-time buyers may not want to buy if prices are falling – and they are forecast to drop by 20%. These measures won’t stop house prices falling.”

Michael Ball, professor of urban and property economics at Reading university, said the package was unlikely to take effect until the summer and would therefore miss the traditional spring and summer peak periods for house sales. But he added: “It is good news but it won’t rescue the housing market over the next six months.”

Robin Hardy
Robin Hardy

analyst at KBC Peel Hunt

“The government’s plans to guarantee AAA-rated asset-backed securities could result in expensive mortgages. Investors in the bank’s bonds might demand a premium because they might view them as being riskier than normal government securities. Banks could pass this on to mortgage borrowers along with the fee they pay to the government for insuring the bonds.

“If these measures generated 25,000 more mortgages that is still an 8% increase in lending compared with current levels, which is a good thing.

“This package will have some impact but it won’t turn the mortgage market around and arrest the decline in house prices. These are outline proposals, so it is unlikely to have particular impact before the middle of the year.”

David Pretty
David Pretty

chair of the New Homes Marketing Board and former chief executive of Barratt

“Most people in housing will welcome this offer. Key to its success is the banks’ reaction and the extent to which they take up this facility. It is easy to be critical of the banks but we need strong banks in future so we have to try to strike a balance between performance, repairing their balance sheets and increasing lending. The lack of mortgage finance is a constraint on the market. There are credit-worthy buyers with deposits but they cannot get mortgages at a reasonable rate. Even today the industry could build around 130,000 homes a year if the liquidity was there rather than the 50,000-100,000 envisaged over the next 12 months. Even in the last recession Britain still built and sold about 130,000 homes a year.”

The rest of the bailout

  • The Bank of England to buy up to £50bn of assets which will give banks cash to lend
  • Northern Rock to halve its rate of mortgage redemptions. This should mean fewer of its customers switch to mortgages with other banks
  • The government to extend its credit guarantee scheme, which guarantees bonds traded between banks, to the end of the year