US household wealth reached new high of $85.7 trillion in Q2

WASHINGTON—Rising home values drove a modest increase in Americans’ household wealth to a new high of
$85.7 trillion in the April-to-June quarter.

The Federal Reserve (the Fed) said on Friday that Americans’ stock portfolios climbed $61 billion in value, while housing wealth increased $499 billion. Total household wealth is up from $85 trillion in the first quarter.

Rising household wealth can help boost growth by making consumers feel wealthier and more likely to spend.

Economists estimate that consumer spending rises 3 cents to 5 cents for every dollar increase in wealth. Household spending drives about two-thirds of the economy.

Yet, greater wealth doesn’t necessarily benefit the typical family. The stock market has more than doubled since the recession ended in June 2009, which mainly benefits richer households.

Approximately 10 percent of the wealthiest Americans own 80 percent of stocks, according to research by Edward Wolff, an economist at New York University.

The Fed’s figures aren’t adjusted for population growth or inflation. Household wealth, or net worth, reflects the value of homes, stocks and other assets minus mortgages, credit cards and other debts.

Americans also stepped up borrowing, a sign of confidence in the economy.

Total mortgage debt grew at the fastest level since the recession ended in 2009. Overall household debt, which includes mortgages, student loans, auto loans and credit-card debt, increased at the fastest pace in a year.

The jump in mortgage lending reflects the fact that home sales are rising at a solid pace, and that fewer sales are being made to investors and wealthy individuals, who frequently pay cash for homes.

Sales of existing homes have risen nearly 10 percent in the past year and have reached pre-recession levels.

On Thursday the Fed decided against raising short-term interest rates, citing threats to the US economy from weak growth in China and the persistence of very low inflation.

That should keep mortgage rates low in the coming months. The 30-year average mortgage was 3.9 percent this week, according to Freddie Mac.

Household net worth has steadily recovered after the Great Recession wiped out nearly $13 trillion in wealth. Total net worth has far surpassed the prerecession peak of almost $68 trillion. 

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