Consumers continue to borrow at steady rate in February

Consumers continue to borrow at steady rate in February

Consumer credit up $15.2 billion in the month. No pullback seen despite weaker retail sales.

The numbers: Consumer borrowing decelerated but only slightly in February, according to the Federal Reserve on Friday. Total consumer credit increased $15.2 billion in February to a seasonally adjusted $4 trillion. That’s an annual growth rate of 4.5%.

Economists has been expecting a $17 billion gain, according to Econoday. Credit rose a revised $17.7 billion in January, up slightly from the prior estimate of $17 billion. Over the prior three months, credit borrowing expanded at an average pace of $17.2 billion per month.

What happened: Revolving credit, like credit cards, accelerated in February, rising by 3.4% after a 3% gain in January. Nonrevolving credit, typically auto and student loans, had a smaller gain, rising 4.9% in February after a 6.1% rise in January.

Big picture: Consumer spending decelerated in the first quarter in the wake of the stock-market rout in final three months of 2018. But spending will still likely add to first-quarter growth. Contingent Macroeconomics estimated that spending will grow at a 1.4% rate in the first quarter. That’s down from a 2.5% rate seen in the fourth quarter and the tax-cut-fueled 3.7% average rate of credit growth seen over the second and third quarters last year.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.15%   was only up less than 25 points in late Friday trading after the morning report from the Labor Department that job growth rebounded in March.

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