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Economic Report: U.S. consumer credit growth soars in February at highest rate in 20 years

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The numbers: Total consumer credit increased $41.8 billion in February, up sharply from $8.9 billion in the prior month, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. That translates into an 11.3% annual rate in February, up from a 2.4% gain in the prior month.

Economists had been expecting a $15 billion gain, according to the Wall Street Journal forecast.

Key data: Revolving credit, like credit cards, rose at a 20.7% rate in February after 4% gain in the prior month. 

Nonrevolving credit, typically auto and student loans, rose 8.4% after 1.9% growth rate in the prior month. This category of credit is much less volatile. It only fell briefly at the start of the pandemic before returning to steady growth. 

The Fed data does not include mortgage loans, which is the largest category of household debt.

Big picture: Economists will be watching consumer spending carefully in coming months to see how households fare as the Fed raises interest rates and tries to move away from its easy policy stance.

Market reaction: Stocks
DJIA,
+0.51%

SPX,
+0.74%

were mixed on Thursday after suffering losses most of the week after hawkish comments from Fed officials.

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