Amid all the uncertainty over Brexit and downgrades to economic forecasts it’s heartening to know that behind the scenes companies and consumers are continuing to spend.
New figures by the Finance & Leasing Association (FLA) show that asset finance, which is mainly leasing and hire purchase, hit record levels last year.
The FLA is the leading trade body for asset, consumer and motor finance in the UK. Its members include banks, the finance arms of retailers such as Marks & Spencer (MKS) and Tesco (TSCO), and independent firms like PCF Group (PCF:AIM).
NO SIGN OF A SLOWDOWN
In total FLA members provided a record £137bn of new finance to UK businesses and consumers last year, up from £128bn in 2017.
Over three quarters of this amount was consumer credit meaning that FLA members generated a third of all new consumer borrowing last year.
New business hit a new high of £32.5bn to mark an eighth consecutive year of growth.
The biggest areas of borrowing were commercial vehicles, car finance and plant and machinery.
WHITE VAN MAN IN THE DRIVING SEAT
The biggest and fastest-growing segment by value is finance for commercial vehicles including the classic white van beloved of traders up and down the country.
Finance for commercial vehicles was up 7% last year, more than double the rate of growth for the market as a whole, and it accelerated in the fourth quarter.
In the last three months of 2018 the amount of finance taken out on trucks and vans was up 14% on a year earlier while in December it was up 18%.
According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) nearly 360,000 new vans up to 3.5 tons were registered last year.
This helped drive an 8% increase in UK commercial vehicle manufacturing and an 18% increase in commercials built for the home market.
NEW CAR MARKET STALLED
Car finance picked up slightly in December but was still down in the final quarter and down on the year which is unsurprising as car sales were poor last year.
According to the SMMT the number of new cars registered last year was 2.37m, the lowest figure since 2014.
For those in the know though, grey is the new black with nearly 500,000 grey cars registered last year making it the most popular colour for the first time.
HEAVY PLANT CROSSING
Demand for finance for plant and machinery was up 5% last year and like commercial vehicles it saw a marked acceleration in the final quarter.
Growth in the fourth quarter was 14% while growth purely in December was 18%.
This is encouraging as growth of that order is often only seen when customers are rushing to buy kit ahead of a government incentive running out.
However in this case the government has announced a temporary increase in the annual investment allowance from January which should continue to support demand this quarter.