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Economic Report: Consumer credit leaps again in sign of steady spending — and high inflation

The numbers: The amount of credit consumers used in June rose by higher than expected $40.1 billion, suggesting Americans are still spending plenty of money but also borrowing more because of high inflation.

Economists had expected a $27 billion increase, according to the Wall Street Journal forecast.

Borrowing rose at a sharp 10.5% annual rate in June.

Credit surged to a record high in the spring, Federal Reserve data showed, and it’s still growing rapidly even as the economy slows.

How much credit households use is seen as a good window into the strength of the economy. Consumers tend to borrow more when times are good and cut back when the economy is weak.

Complicating the picture, however, is high inflation and rising interest rates. Households may need to borrow more to afford what they buy. They are also paying higher prices.

Key data: Revolving credit, like credit cards, increased at a 16% annual rate in June.

Auto and student loans, known as non-revolving credit, rose at a 8.8% pace. That category of credit is much less volatile.

The report does not include mortgages, the largest category of household debt.

Big picture: The use of credit can be a good or bad thing depending on what Americans do with the money and how easily they can repay it.

More borrowing over the past year mostly reflected an improving economy, rising wages and a strong labor market. Americans could afford to borrow more to pay for new cars, vacations and the like.

Now it could be different. High inflation has eroded incomes and pushed up interest rates. Americans have to pay higher rates for credit cards, auto loans and other big-ticket items purchased on credit.

If the economy keeps slowing, however, credit use might decline. Consumers typically cut back when the economy weakens and their financial security is threatened.

Market reaction:  The Dow Jones Industrial Average

the S&P 500 index

fell in Friday trades. A shockingly strong July employment report means the Fed is likely to keep raising interest rates aggressively to try to squelch inflation.

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