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U.S. households regain almost all wealth lost during Great Recession

WASHINGTON — American households have regained almost all of the wealth lost during the Great Recession, thanks to surging stock prices and recovering home values.

Total household net worth — assets minus liabilities — expanded 2.6%, or $1.9 trillion, in the third quarter from the second quarter, according to a Federal Reserve report released Monday.

It was the eighth straight quarter of increases and brought the net worth for households and nonprofit organizations to $77.26 trillion at the end of September.

In nominal dollars, households already recouped their lost wealth a year ago. But adjusting for inflation, Americans' net worth is still about 0.5% shy of the peak in the third quarter of 2007, just before the recession hit.

The biggest contributor to the latest quarterly gain in wealth was the booming stock market: Household assets in the form of corporate equities and mutual funds jumped by $917 billion, the Fed said. The value of residential real estate owned by households also helped to push up net worth with an increase of about $428 billion.

The big wealth gain was largely enjoyed by wealthy Americans who hold the bulk of stocks. But close to two-thirds of U.S. households own homes, and should housing prices continue to rise, as expected, more Americans should benefit.

The housing market's recovery could be seen on the liability side of the Fed's report as well. Households' home mortgage debt rose at an annual rate of about 1% in the third quarter, the first such increase since early 2008.

The combination of higher demand for homes and decreasing foreclosures "is shifting the needle in mortgage balances," said Scott Hoyt, an economist at Moody's Analytics. "Both of those trends look set to continue."

The resulting improvements in net worth should give a boost to consumer spending. People tend to spend more when they see their home and stock values rising.

Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of American economic activity, but it has been tepid during the recovery largely because of slow job growth and weak wage gains.


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