Household wealth takes step backwards

By Chris Isidore, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Household net worth fell sharply in the second quarter, ending a string of four straight quarters of gains, according to a Federal Reserve report Friday.

The report shows a $1.5 trillion loss in combined household net worth in the period, to $53.5 trillion. That represented a 2.8% drop in total wealth owned by American consumers after all their debt is considered.

Most of the loss came from a $912 billion decline in the value of individual stocks, a $650 billion drop in the value of retirement savings and a $295 billion drop in mutual funds. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slid about 12% during the quarter. But the index has rebounded about 9% since the end of the quarter.

"Despite this setback, we expect net worth to rebound further in the future as the recovery in the labor market continues," said Theresa Chen, an economist with Barclays Capital, in a note to clients Friday.

Real estate bucked the trend by growing by $46 billion, but that was only a 0.3% improvement. Of almost as great a help to household balance sheets was a cutback in debt. Mortgage loans held by consumers declined $49.3 billion, while outstanding consumer loans fell by $15.4 billion.

Household net worth had regained about $6.2 trillion in value during the previous four quarters, although that was still well short of the $17 trillion loss from the middle of 2007 through the start of 2009. To top of page

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