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Tough road to recovery

The SMP’s view

After over a year of the toughest market conditions that have been seen for a generation, it would seem that the only reasonable attitude to adopt is that of a man with his glass half full.

Happily, there are many indications that things are now looking more positive and that during 2010 the worst aspects of the recession will respond to the very significant stimulation applied and economic activity will develop a momentum that will gradually see a return to something more like normality.

None of this says, however, that all the problems are in the past. The level of current Government borrowing remains at a stratospheric level and interest rates can only be held low while access to international markets is available on preferential terms.

Maintaining a triple A rating remains a key priority for many years to come and the need to reduce Government spending will have to be addressed immediately that the nicety of a general election has been dealt with.

Most now recognise that the necessary savings cannot be made without significant cuts in all non-essential services and this will inevitably have an impact on people employed in that sector, a group who have been shielded to date.

Rising unemployment among public sector workers will act to depress economic growth for many months to come.

Commentators are also mostly agreed that interest rates will rise over the coming months although there is still some uncertainty as to timing.

For those with savings, this will be very good news but the growing numbers who are now borrowing at standard variable rate will find their monthly costs increasing.

For many, the levels of their borrowing requirements are such that they will have very limited ability to transfer to fixed-rate offerings and many will be left with no choice but to bite the bullet and cope with the increased and variable costs. Inevitably, there will be casualties and we may well see rising numbers of repossessions.

None of this suggests that house prices will do other than recover at a slow pace, although there can be no doubt that there remains a shortage of many types of property and the growing population still has a need for housing so there will be regional variations and hotspots which will defy the national trend.

None of this will make 2010 an easy year for borrowers, mortgage advisers or lenders. It is imperative that the lenders and the intermediaries continue to work together to provide clients with a professional service that borrowers can have confidence in.

Richard Fox is chief executive of the Chartered Insurance Institute’s Society of Mortgage Professionals

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