Net Household Worth Highest Ever; Bullard Hints at Tapering

Household net worth increased in the third quarter, reaching a new high of nearly $77.3 trillion, compared with $75.3 trillion in the second quarter of 2013. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis president James Bullard said that the Federal Open Market Committee decision on tapering will be “data dependent."

The Federal Reserve reported on Monday that U.S. household net worth increased in the third quarter, reaching a new high of nearly $77.3 trillion in 3Q13 compared with $75.3 trillion in 2Q13. Net worth previously peaked in the third quarter of 2007, just ahead of the recession, at $69.1 trillion; by the first quarter of 2009, it had dropped to $55.7 trillion.

The growth in net worth was driven partly by higher stock prices, as it has been for a while now – up $917 billion for the quarter – and partly by gained in the value of residential real estate, which amounted to $428 billion for the quarter. The Fed further estimates that the total value of household real estate increased to about $19 trillion in during the third quarter of 2013. The value of household real estate still hasn’t returned to its precession levels, coming in at $3.6 trillion below the peak in early 2006.

Household debt rose at an annualized rate of 3 percent in the third quarter. Home mortgage debt rose at an annualized 1 percent for the quarter, according to the Fed, marking the first expansion in such debt since the beginning of 2008.

Bullard Hints at Tapering 

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis president James Bullard said at a meeting of the CFA Society of St. Louis on Monday that the Federal Open Market Committee decision on tapering will be “data dependent.” He did not, however, say anything more specific about the timetable.

“Data dependence encompasses both cumulative progress in labor markets since September 2012 and a judgment concerning the sustainability of that progress,” Bullard said. He also noted that “inflation continues to surprise to the downside.” The most recent report on the U.S. consumer price index put the annualized rate of inflation below the Fed’s target of 2 percent – practically no price movements at all.

“There is no widely accepted reason why inflation is running as low as it is in the face of extraordinarily accommodative policy from the Fed,” he added. “A small taper might recognize labor market improvement while still providing the Committee the opportunity to carefully monitor inflation during the first half of 2014 … Should inflation not return toward target, the Committee could pause tapering at subsequent meetings.”

Wall Street gyrated a lot on Monday, but in the end went no place fast, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 5.33 points, or 0.03 percent. The S&P 500 was up 0.18 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.34 percent.