Thursday, February 23, 2006

More Gold from Wealth Survey

Results from the long-awaited 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances were released by the Federal Reserve Board this morning, and number crunchers everywhere are drooling over the tables. It's a good thing the findings are so tasty because we will have to gnaw on them for the next three years.

NET WORTH: Household net worth (assets minus debts) barely increased between 2001 and 2004 (up 1.5 percent). Even worse, the net worth of householders aged 35 to 44 plunged by 16 percent during those years, after adjusting for inflation (falling from $82,600 to $69,400). Why? Their financial assets lost value, they took on more debt, and the small increase in the value of their nonfinancial assets (read: homes) did not make up the difference.

FINANCIAL ASSETS: The average household lost a lot of ground here. The median value of the financial assets owned by the average household fell 23 percent between 2001 and 2004, after adjusting for inflation--from a median of $29,800 to $23,000. A smaller 48.6 percent of households owned stock in 2004, down from 51.9 percent in 2001. Among families owning stock both directly and indirectly through mutual funds and retirement accounts, median stock value fell from $36,700 to $24,300. Financial assets as a share of total assets fell from 42 to 36 percent.

NON-FINANCIAL ASSETS: The rise in homeownership can be seen in these numbers. The homeownership rate increased from 67.7 to 69.1 percent between 2001 and 2004. The median value of the average household's nonfinancial assets (including homes) rose 22 percent from$120,900 to $147,800, after adjusting for inflation. The median value of the average household's primary residence climbed 22 percent, from $131,000 to $160,000.

DEBT: Not surprisingly, Americans are deeper in debt. The median amount of debt for households with debt (76 percent of households) rose by 34 percent between 2001 and 2004, from $41,300 to $55,300 after adjusting for inflation. Seventy percent of debt is for home purchase. Credit card debt remains modest. Forty-six percent of households carried a balance on their credit card, owing a median of just $2,200 in 2004.

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