U.S. household wealth regains pre-recession peak

WASHINGTON — It took 5½ years.

Surging stock prices and steady home-price increases have finally allowed Americans to regain the $16 trillion in wealth they lost to the Great Recession. The gains are helping support the economy and could lead to further spending and growth.

Household wealth amounted to $66.1 trillion at the end of 2012, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. That was $1.2 trillion more than three months earlier and 98 percent of the pre-recession peak.

Further increases in stock and home prices this year mean that Americans’ net worth has since topped the pre-recession peak of $67.4 trillion, private economists say. Wealth had bottomed at $51.2 trillion in early 2009.

“It’s all but certain that we surpassed that peak in the first quarter,” said Aaron Smith, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics.

Household wealth, or net worth, reflects the value of assets like homes, stocks and bank accounts minus debts like mortgages and credit cards. National home prices have extended their gains this year. And the Standard &Poor’s 500 index, a broad gauge of the stock market, has surged 8 percent since Jan. 1.

Some economists caution that the regained wealth might spur less consumer spending than it did before the recession. Americans are cashing out less home equity, for example, than they did five years ago, notes Dana Saporta, an economist at Credit Suisse.

In addition, the rebound in wealth has benefited mostly wealthier Americans. The Dow Jones industrial average has just set a record high, and roughly 80 percent of stocks are held by the wealthiest 10 percent of households.

For most Americans, home equity is their largest source of wealth, and national home values remain about 30 percent below their peak.

Still, economists expect the regained wealth to contribute further to the economic recovery.

“It should boost consumption, because as people feel wealthier they tend to spend more,” Saporta said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that households will go on a spending spree.”

More in Herald Business Journal

Snohomish County’s campaign to land the 797 takes off

Executive Dave Somers announced the formation of a task force to urge Boeing to build the plane here.

For modern women, 98-year-old rejection letters still sting

In a stark new video, female Boeing engineers break the silence about past inopportunity.

Drone’s ease piercing of NY ‘no-fly’ zone underscores risks

An Army Black Hawk helicopter suffered damage to one of its rotor blades, but was able to land safely.

Tax reform needs the public’s input on spending priorities

The GOP tax plan is a good idea, but the next step should give us a voice on how taxes are spent.

Disney buying large part of 21st Century Fox in $52.4B deal

Before the buyout, 21st Century Fox will spin off the Fox network, stations and cable channels.

Commentary: GM, Boeing fight a war of words over Mars

Boeing is strongly signaling how crucial deep-space exploration is to its future.

Angel of the Winds pays $3.4M for Everett arena naming rights

The casino replaces Xfinity as the lead sponsor for the publicly owned downtown Everett events center.

Delta orders 100 Airbus A321neo jets valued at $12.7 billion

Boeing had hoped to land the deal, offering comparable 737s.

Pain lingers decade after recession

No matter how good things are now, it’s impossible to forget how the collapse affected people.

Most Read