The net worth of American households grew last year by $9.8 trillion, or 14%, to $80.66 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. That includes a nearly $3 trillion jump in the fourth quarter alone.
Most of the gains in net worth, $5.6 trillion, came through the stock market, as the S&P 500 climbed nearly 30%, and $2.3 trillion came in the value of real estate as home prices rose. U.S. home prices grew over 13% last year, according to the Case-Shiller 20-city composite index.
Those gains aren’t, of course, shared equally by Americans. A recent study from Ohio State said that the mean net worth of American households in mid-2013 was still 14% below the prerecession peak in 2006.
By the Fed’s numbers, and then including an inflation adjustment, American wealth is up 4% from 2006 levels. The Ohio State study points out the Fed includes data on nonprofit organizations and foreigner accounts outside the U.S. and doesn’t account for growth in the population.
The Fed report released Thursday, called the “financial accounts of the United States,” contains a dizzying array of data. Total debt outside the financial sector rose 5.4% in the fourth quarter and grew 4.3% for 2013.
Household debt grew just 0.4% in the fourth quarter, as a 1% drop in mortgage debt offset a 5.4% boom in consumer credit, mostly car and student loans. Mortgage debt has only grown in two quarters since the second quarter of 2008, due to foreclosures, short sales and tougher lending standards.
Businesses continued to take advantage of low interest rates and easy terms to pile on debt. In the fourth quarter, nonfinancial debt grew 7.1%.
Their cash piles edged up to $1.98 trillion from $1.91 trillion in the third quarter and just $1.64 trillion in 2009.
State and local government debt shrank 4.9%, while federal government debt surged 11.6% in the fourth quarter.