U.S. Consumer Credit Ballooned at Fastest Pace Since 2001

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Credit cards of American Express are photographed in this photo illustration. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

WASHINGTON—Borrowing by U.S. consumers ballooned in March at the fastest pace in more than a decade.

Outstanding consumer credit, a measure of non-real estate debt, rose by a seasonally adjusted $29.67 billion in March from the prior month, the Federal Reserve said Friday. The 10.0% seasonally adjusted annual growth rate was the fastest growth pace since November 2001.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected a $16.5 billion increase in March.

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Consumer credit rose at a 4.78% pace in February, revised down from an earlier estimate.

Revolving credit outstanding, mostly credit cards, increased at a 14.16% annual pace in March, the fastest pace since July 2000. Revolving credit rose at a revised rate of 3.72% in February.

Nonrevolving credit outstanding, including student and auto loans, increased at a 8.50% annual pace in March compared with February’s revised 5.17% growth rate.

The sharp increase in consumer borrowing follows months of modest economic growth. While the economy has been producing jobs at a healthy pace, overall economic activity has slowed.

Measures of U.S. consumer confidence have reflected uncertainty in recent weeks. The University of Michigan final consumer-sentiment index declined in April to its lowest level in seven months. The closely watched gauge of consumer sentiment, released last week, was 89.0, down from March’s final reading of 91.0 and the lowest level since September.

A separate gauge of U.S. household attitudes, the Conference Board’s consumer-confidence index, dipped in April to 94.2 from 96.1 in March, the group said last week. That report showed slightly fewer people saying that they planned to take a vacation or buy a car, home or major household appliance within the next six months.

Harriet Torry at harriet.torry@wsj.com and Ben Leubsdorf at ben.leubsdorf@wsj.com





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