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Households recovering from economic freefall

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The net worth of American households increased slightly during the final three months of 2009, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

Household net worth, the difference between assets and liabilities, rose to $54.2 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2009, up from $53.5 trillion in the third quarter.

It was the third consecutive quarterly increase, but the figure remains well below the highs of just two years ago. In the second quarter of 2007, net worth peaked at $65.3 trillion.

For 2009 as a whole, household net rose $2.8 trillion, compared with a decline of $11.2 trillion in all of 2008, according to the Federal Reserve's flow of funds report.

The report showed that household debt fell at an annual rate of 1.2%, marking the nearly two years of declines. But the drop came after Americans pared debt at a more aggressive 2.6% rate in the third quarter.

The rebound in household net worth came as the value of Americans' investment portfolios continued to increase. Stock holdings jumped nearly 4% to $7.7 trillion.

However, real estate values rose less than 1% in the fourth quarter to roughly $1.6 trillion. That comes after an increase of more than 2% in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, the report showed that the federal government's debt load increased by 12.6%, after an increase of 20.6% in the prior quarter. Debt levels for state and local governments increased 4.7%. To top of page

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