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First-quarter household wealth up 4.7% with rise in stock, housing

A burst of stock gains and the first rise in home values in six years helped Americans regain more of their wealth in the January-March quarter.

But since then, that effort has hit another bump. Stock prices sank in May on fears about Europe's debt crisis and a weaker U.S. economy. That eroded the first quarter's gains in wealth.

And there's scant evidence of a sustained recovery in the housing market despite an uptick in home equity.

Household net worth rose 4.7 percent to $62.9 trillion in the first quarter, according to a Federal Reserve report released Thursday. The main reason was a 12 percent jump in the Standard & Poor's 500 index, which padded the wealth of Americans who own stocks.

Home values increased 2.3 percent.

Household wealth, or net worth, is the value of assets like homes, bank accounts and stocks, minus debts like mortgages and credit cards. It bottomed during the Great Recession at roughly $49 trillion in the first quarter of 2009.

Americans have been gradually recovering the wealth they lost to the recession. But it remains about 5 percent below its prerecession peak of $66 trillion.

The Fed report also found that:

*Americans' borrowing rose at an annual rate of 5.8 percent in the January-March quarter. It was the first time consumers have boosted their borrowing by at least 5 percent in two straight quarters since mid-2008, just before the financial crisis.

*Household debt dipped 0.4 percent last quarter. Americans have been steadily shrinking their debt loads for the past four years.

*Home mortgage debt, which has been declining since 2008, fell an additional 2.9 percent. But the drop can be deceiving. Mortgage debt is falling mainly because many Americans have defaulted on payments and lost homes to foreclosure -- not just because people are paying off loans.

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