Consumer borrowing in the U.S. surged again in May as Americans took out more loans to purchase cars.
The $19.6 billion increase in credit followed a revised $26.1 billion gain in April, Federal Reserve figures showed today in Washington. Non-revolving lending, which includes auto and school loans, advanced by the most in a year.
Stronger employment and stock-market gains this year are giving consumers the confidence to take on more debt. The figures coincide with robust auto sales and greater demand for furniture and appliances tied to the real-estate recovery, indicating the economy is rebounding from a first-quarter slump.
"This says a lot about the confidence of consumers and bodes well in terms of future spending," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. in New York, who projected a $20 billion increase in credit. "Their ability to take on more debt because of the firmer job market means this economy has some staying power."
The median forecast of 33 economists called for a $20 billion increase. Estimates ranged from $12 billion to $26.9 billion after a previously reported $26.8 billion advance a month earlier. The April gain was the biggest in comparable data going back to December 2010. The report doesn't track mortgages, home-equity lines of credit, or other real estate-backed debt.
Revolving debt, including credit-card balances, rose $1.79 billion in May following an $8.85 billion April advance that was the biggest since November 2007.
Non-revolving credit, which includes car and education loans, gained $17.8 billion in May, the biggest increase since February 2013, after climbing $17.3 billion in the previous month.
Car sales picked up in May, climbing to a 16.7 million annual rate from 16 million a month earlier, according to data from Ward's Automotive Group. The pace accelerated last month, reaching 16.9 million, the fastest since July 2006.
Consumer loans made by the federal government, mostly for school tuitions, increased by $4.4 billion before seasonal adjustment after rising $4.8 billion in April, today's report showed.
Stronger home sales are helping drive demand for home furnishings. Purchases of new properties rose in May by the most in 22 years as mortgage rates declined, Commerce Department figures showed on June 24.
The same month, receipts at furniture stores climbed 6.5 percent from May of last year, while sales at electronics and appliance retailers rose 1.3 percent, according to Commerce Department data.
Faster employment and wage gains are providing Americans with the means to keep spending. Employers added 288,000 workers in June, and the unemployment rate fell to an almost six-year low of 6.1 percent, a report from the Labor Department showed last week. The 1.39 million increase in employment over the past six months was the biggest over a similar period since early 2006.
Job gains bolstered consumer sentiment as well from April through June. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index ended its best quarter since the U.S. recession began at the end of 2007.