Washington • Americans’ wealth dipped about 0.5 percent in the April-June quarter as a drop in stock prices more than offset a gain in home values.
Yet since June, a resurgent stock market has jumped about 7 percent, more than reversing last quarter’s 3 percent drop in share prices. And it’s brought many Americans closer to regaining the wealth they lost to the recession — if they managed to keep their home and have invested in stocks.
Rising wealth could give many people and businesses the confidence to step up spending and boost U.S. economic growth and job creation. That’s a key goal of the bond-buying plan, known as QE3, the Federal Reserve unveiled last week. The Fed hopes to drive interest rates down and stock prices up.
Household net worth fell to $62.7 trillion in the April-June quarter, according to a Federal Reserve report released Thursday. A 2.1 percent increase in home values added $355 billion. Although the value of stock holdings fell about $600 billion, for the year the value is up.
Household wealth, or net worth, reflects the value of assets such as homes, bank accounts and stocks minus debts such as mortgages and credit cards. It peaked before the recession at $67.4 trillion.
Americans’ net worth has risen 22.5 percent from its low of $51.2 trillion reached in early 2009, in the depths of the recession. But it’s still about 7 percent below the pre-recession peak.
Bill Hampel, chief economist at the Credit Union National Association, calculates that Americans will add $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion to their net worth in the current July-September quarter. That would bring their net worth to about 4.3 percent below its pre-recession peak.
"We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close," Hampel said. "Households are rebuilding their capacity to spend."
The Fed report also found that:
• Americans borrowed more in the April-June quarter — only the second increase in the past 17 quarters. Mortgage debt declined for the 13th straight quarter. But Americans are taking on more student and auto loans.
• After-tax incomes have risen a bit, making debts slightly easier to manage. U.S. household debt equaled about 103 percent of after-tax income in the April-June quarter. That was down from 104 percent in the first quarter. The ratio had soared to nearly 125 percent at the height of the housing bubble, up from about 90 percent during the 1990s.
• U.S. homes were worth $16.9 trillion in the April-June quarter, up from a bottom of about $16.1 trillion. That’s far below the $22.7 trillion reached in 2006, at the peak of the bubble.
• Americans’ holdings of stocks and mutual funds fell to $14.3 trillion, down from $14.9 trillion in the first quarter.
• Corporations have begun to spend some of the cash stockpiles they built during the recession. Corporations held $1.73 trillion cash at the end of the April-June quarter, down from $1.75 trillion in the first quarter. If the trend continues, it could signal that companies are investing and expanding more, which could lead to more hiring.
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