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Market chaos forces UK lenders to pull mortgage products

Britain’s house prices boom

By Andy Bruce

LONDON (Reuters) -Turmoil in British financial markets forced mortgage lenders to temporarily withdraw and reprice products for new customers on Monday, a real-world consequence of the market volatility thrown up by finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng's mini-budget last week.

Brokers said the moves were likely just the start of a big shift in Britain's mortgage market.

The country's largest mortgage lender Halifax said it was withdrawing its fee-paying mortgage products - where borrowers could pay an arrangement fee in exchange for a lower interest rate - and moving to a full fee-free range.

Virgin Money and Skipton Building Society temporarily withdrew their entire ranges, with the former aiming for a relaunch later in the week, according to emails sent to brokers seen by Reuters.

Kwarteng sent sterling and government bonds into freefall on Friday with a so-called mini-budget that was designed to grow the economy by funding tax cuts with huge increases in government borrowing.

"As a result of significant changes in the cost of funding, we're making some changes to our product range," a Halifax spokesperson said.

The five-year British government bond yield - a crucial benchmark for lenders' mortgage funding - soared by 96 basis points on Monday and Friday combined, the biggest such increase in borrowing costs since records from Refinitiv began in 1987.

"Following last week's (Bank of England) meeting and the government's subsequent mini-budget we continue to see the market response unfold," Skipton Building Society said in an email to brokers.

"In response, we will be temporarily withdrawing our New Business Product Range with immediate effect."

Virgin Money said its withdrawal of mortgage products for new customers would take place at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT).

"We continue to monitor the situation closely and currently plan to relaunch products for new customers towards the end of the week," Virgin Money said.

Halifax, part of Lloyds Banking Group, said there was no change to its product rates and it continued to offer fee-free options at all product terms and loan-to-value levels.

Brokers said other lenders were certain to make big changes to their mortgage offerings.

"The uncertainty around the risk of an emergency rate rise is likely to see other lenders withdrawing products or increasing rates dramatically until they know the extent of how this all pans out," said Jamie Lennox, director a Dimora Mortgages, a broker.

Others said mortgage borrowing rates were likely to soar, with the Bank of England on Thursday saying it would not hesitate to change interest rates "as much as needed" to return inflation to target.

"That will feed into higher mortgage rates and, as always, it'll be the taxpayer left carrying the can," said Lewis Shaw, founder of broker Shaw Financial Services.

(Reporting by Andy BruceEditing by William James and Mark Potter)