Stocks, housing push U.S. household wealth above $80 trillion

WASHINGTON Thu Mar 6, 2014 1:40pm EST

A customer counts her money at the register of a Toys R Us store on the Thanksgiving Day holiday in Manchester, New Hampshire November 22, 2012. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

A customer counts her money at the register of a Toys R Us store on the Thanksgiving Day holiday in Manchester, New Hampshire November 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. household net worth jumped to a new high at the end of last year, as the value of real estate and share holdings rose and bank accounts swelled.

The Federal Reserve said on Thursday net worth increased 3.8 percent to $80.66 trillion in the fourth quarter, eclipsing a previous record high.

The value of households' property, consumer goods, bank deposits and stocks all increased in the quarter, with share portfolios jumping 10.5 percent and real estate up 2.1 percent.

The Fed said household net worth rose 14 percent in the full year, driven by a $5.6 trillion rise in the value of shares and a $2.3 trillion increase in the value of real estate.

The value of share portfolios almost doubled since 2009 to $13.86 billion at the end of 2013, and the 34 percent rise last year was more than twice as big as the gain notched in 2012. Real estate holdings rose 11.6 percent in 2013.

The U.S. central bank has used ultra-loose monetary policy to encourage a recovery in the nation's housing market following a severe 2007-2009 recession, which has also helped drive U.S. stocks to record highs.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX hit a record high on Tuesday as investors shrugged off the impact of severe weather across much of the U.S., suggesting further strong gains in net wealth ahead.

Increases in housing wealth make it easier for families to borrow against the equity in their homes, while overall wealth gains make consumers feel generally more comfortable spending their money. Many economists think consumers spend a few cents of every dollar they gain in wealth.

Still, the figures showed growth in household debt slowed to an annual rate of 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter, from 3.0 percent previously, as home mortgage debt fell. Net debt hit $13.11 trillion.

Companies also resisted piling into new loans, with business debt rising 7.1 percent in the quarter, a slowdown from the previous period.

Businesses were cashed-up as never before, with $1.98 trillion in liquid assets on hand in the fourth quarter, up from $1.91 trillion in the third quarter, the data showed.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Paul Simao and Meredith Mazzilli)

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