Consumer Credit in U.S. Increased $6 Billion on Auto Loans, Card Purchases
U.S. consumer borrowing rose for a sixth straight month in March, led by a gain in non-revolving credit, which includes auto loans, and a pickup in credit-card use.
The $6 billion increase followed a $7.6 billion rise in February, the Federal Reserve said today in Washington. Economists projected a $5 billion gain in the measure of credit card debt and non-revolving loans for March, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey.
Payroll gains may be giving Americans the ability to ratchet up their borrowing. Employers last month added more jobs than forecast, indicating the economic expansion is withstanding higher fuel prices.
“Consumers are feeling a little more confident about the economic outlook and their own financial situation,” said Russell Price, senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Detroit. “Things will improve incrementally from here. As job growth continues, we should continue to see pretty good consumer spending.”
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey of 37 economists ranged from gains of $2 billion to $8 billion after a previously reported $7.6 billion rise in February.
The U.S. added 244,000 jobs in April, a report from the Labor Department showed today. Economists projected a 185,000 increase, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. The jobless rate rose to 9 percent.
Revolving debt, which includes credit cards, increased $1.9 billion in March, the second gain in four months, according to today’s Fed data. Non-revolving debt, including educational loans and loans for autos and mobile homes, rose $4.1 billion for the month. The Fed’s report doesn’t track debt secured by real estate, such as home equity lines of credit.
The increase in non-revolving debt was led by an unadjusted $6.2 billion rise in federal government lending for education.
Auto sales in March slipped to a seasonally adjusted 13.06 million annual rate from 13.38 million a month earlier, according to industry reports.
“We continue to see good solid signs of progress despite some of the challenges that remain” for the economy, Don Johnson, vice president of U.S. sales for General Motors Co. (GM), said during an April 1 teleconference. “A recovering job market is going to be the most important factor for the U.S. economy at this stage, and we do anticipate that this is going to continue to improve.”
American Express Co., the biggest issuer based on customer spending, announced April 21 that first-quarter profit increased and that it reduced funds set aside to cover bad loans.
“Total revenues grew at the healthiest pace since before the recession,” Kenneth I. Chenault, chief executive officer of American Express, said in a statement.
Capital One Financial Corp. reported the same day that its first-quarter profit also rose as fewer credit-card borrowers defaulted.
“The period of shrinking loans through the Great Recession came to an end,” Richard D. Fairbank, chief executive officer at Capital One, said in the statement.
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