Fed: Household net worth dipped for first time in three years

Oleg Prikhodko | E+ | Getty Images

Household net worth declined in the third quarter for the first time since the third quarter of 2011, the Federal Reserve said on Thursday.

Net worth declined $141 billion in the period to $81.35 trillion, the Fed said, which it blamed on a nearly $600 billion drop in household equity holdings.

A $214 billion rise in the value of real estate holdings in the period helped offset the decline in stocks. Total debt rose 4.4 percent, the Fed added.

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This drop breaks a long uninterrupted chain of gains that many economists say have gradually made U.S. consumers more willing to spend their cash. Many economists think consumers spend a few cents out of every dollar that their net worth increases.

The last time net worth declined was in the third quarter of 2011.

Some of the decline in net worth was fed by a rise in debts, with Americans borrowing more to buy houses. The consumer credit category, which tracks loans to buy cars and student loans as well as credit card borrowing, also rose. This is probably good for economic growth, at least in the short term.

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But the value of household assets fell, which is less supportive for growth. This appeared to be driven by a dip in the value of corporate stocks held by households, even though the S&P stock index gained slightly during the third quarter.

Reuters contributed to this report.