Household wealth grows in first quarter

WASHINGTON — Rising stock markets and home prices helped lift U.S. household wealth to a record in the first three months of the year.

The Federal Reserve said Thursday that household net worth increased $1.5 trillion in the first quarter to $81.8 trillion. The gain was driven by higher home prices, which boosted Americans’ home values $758 billion. A rising, if choppy, stock market pushed up stock and mutual fund holdings $361 billion.

Checking account balances, pensions plan assets and retirement savings, such as 401(k)s, also rose.

The Fed’s figures aren’t adjusted for population growth or inflation. And the wealth is flowing mainly to affluent Americans: Roughly 10 percent of households own about 80 percent of stocks.

Since the first quarter ended, stock and home prices have risen further, boosting household wealth even higher.

Still, the rise in wealth could benefit the broader economy. Consumers who feel richer because of larger stock portfolios or rising home values typically spend more.

Household wealth, or net worth, reflects the value of homes, stocks, bank accounts and other assets minus mortgages, credit cards and other debts.

The Great Recession battered Americans’ net worth. Overall wealth fell to $55.6 trillion in the first quarter of 2009, 19 percent below the pre-recession peak of $68.8 trillion.

Since then, a surging stock market and rising home prices have rebuilt the lost wealth and pushed it to new highs. That’s given many people more confidence to borrow. Total household debt rose 2 percent in the first quarter, mostly because of rising student and auto loans.

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