WASHINGTON >> Americans increased their borrowing in July at nearly double the pace of the previous month, evidence that confident consumers are willing to take on more debt to support their spending.
The Federal Reserve reported today that consumer debt rose by a seasonally adjusted $16.6 billion in July, up sharply from a gain of $8.5 billion in June.
The category that includes credit cards rose by $1.3 billion after shrinking by $1.2 billion in June. The category that covers auto and student loans surged by $15.4 billion after an increase of $9.6 billion in June. It was the largest gain since an increase of $17.9 billion last November.
Consumer borrowing is closely followed for the clues it can provide about the willingness of consumers to go into debt to support spending.
Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity in the United States. After a slow start this year, consumer activity accelerated sharply this spring. That helped push overall economic growth up to a solid annual rate of 4.2 percent in the April-June quarter, almost double the 2.2 percent GDP gain in the first quarter.
President Donald Trump is forecasting even stronger gains in growth going forward but private analysts believe the spring quarter figure was boosted by some temporary factors. Those included a rush to ship U.S. exports of products such as soybeans before retaliatory tariffs were imposed by China and other countries reacting to penalty tariffs levied by the Trump administration.
Many analysts believe growth for the second half of this year will come in at a still solid annual rate of 3 percent. If that forecast proves accurate, it would give the country the strongest full-year GDP growth in more than a decade.
The July increase pushed consumer borrowing up to a record of $3.92 trillion compared to a level of $3.75 trillion in July 2017.
The Fed’s monthly credit report does not include mortgages or any other loans secured by real estate such as home equity loans.