Another sign of economic recovery came yesterday with a government report showing a rise in consumer credit in August for the first time in four months. Consumers went just $15 million further into debt in the month, after seasonal adjustment, according to the Federal Reserve Board.
The rise followed a fall of $609 million in the volume of outstanding consumer credit in July and a record drop of $3.46 billion in June.
The Fed said that in August consumers took out new debt of $25.6 billion, a slight rise from the July total of $24.5 billion and well up on the year's low of $20.7 billion recorded in June.
However, consumers were in a cautious enough mood to step up their repayments of credit during the month of $25.6 billion from $25.1 billion a month earlier. The total volume of outstanding installment credit in August was $303.3 billion. This represents a rise of 1.2 percent from a year earlier, not enough to keep pace with inflation. This year's recession and soaring interest rates in the spring choked off consumer borrowing.
Since August, interest rates have shot up again -- although they have lowered somewhat this week -- and could have dampened demand for credit last month. The housing and auto markets were particularly hard-hit by attempts to cut back on expensive debt in the spring and early summer. They would stand to lose again if consumers respond to higher interest rates in the fall by another credit cutback. But many bankers still believe that interest rates could come down again before the end of the year, with the recent leap turning out to be just a blip.
Outstanding auto loans increased by $174 million in August, after seasonal adjustment, following a $93 million drop in July. New credit extended for auto purchases in August totaled $6.96 billion, a rise of nearly 5 1/2 percent from the previous month.
Revolving credit -- which includes credit cards at retailers, gasoline companies and banks -- also increased slightly last month, with a $142 million rise in the amount of this type of credit outstanding.
Mobile home credit and the debt catagory which includes personal cash loans both showed a drop in their outstanding amounts from July to August.
Consumers cut back their installment credit for mobile homes by $81 million in August, with extensions totaling $387 million during the month. The large "other" category saw a drop in outstanding credit of $293 million during the month after a fall of $556 million in July.
Finance companies picked up the extra installment credit for auto purchases in August, with an increase of $589 million in their outstanding credit extended for this purpose. Consumers actually reduced their borrowing from banks and credit unions for buying cars.
Retailers' installment credit went up by $71 million from credit cards and by $41 million in other credit in August.