U.S. household wealth fell 5.6% in Q1 2020 as coronavirus hit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. household wealth fell 5.6% to $110.8 trillion in the first quarter of this year as U.S. stock markets were hammered by the escalating novel coronavirus epidemic, which has since pushed the United States into recession.

FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks on an empty street amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

The majority of the drop came from cratering U.S. stock prices at the time, data released by the Federal Reserve on Thursday showed.

From mid February through the end of March, an index that covers 90% of the market capitalization of U.S. stocks lost more than $10 trillion in value. Over the quarter the S&P 500’s decline was 20%, the largest quarterly loss since the fourth quarter of 2008, but it has since recouped almost all those losses.

The COVID-19 bear market and rebound

The last two weeks of the quarter also saw job losses mount as the spreading virus caused many U.S. states to begin to issue stay-at-home orders and close non-essential businesses. Low-wage workers were particularly hard hit.

By contrast, household net worth was $117.3 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2019.

The number of employed Americans has dropped by roughly 20 million since the onset of the epidemic, with the jobless rate shooting up from 3.5% in February, a half-century low, to more than 13% in May.

The plunge and rebound in stock prices, however, is unlikely to be closely tracked by most Americans. Roughly 84% of stocks owned by U.S. households are held by the wealthiest 10% of Americans, according to an analysis of 2016 Fed data by Edward Wolff, an economics professor at New York University.

And while roughly half of Americans own some stocks through a brokerage account or a pension or retirement fund, for most the exposure is too small for market swings to radically alter their finances.

Elsewhere in the report, household borrowing rose at a 3.9% annual rate in the first quarter, up from a downwardly revised 3.4% growth rate in the fourth quarter of the year.

Liquid assets held by non-financial firms were $5.0 trillion versus $5.1 trillion in the October-December 2019 period.

Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Andrea Ricci