WASHINGTON – With zero-interest loans drawing car buyers to auto lots like ants to a spring picnic, the amount of U.S. consumer credit outstanding posted a record surge in November, the Federal Reserve said Tuesday.
The U.S. central bank said consumer debt rose by a much larger-than-expected $19.9 billion in November to a seasonally adjusted $1.653 trillion. That was on top of a revised $11.2 billion gain in October. The previous month had originally been reported as a smaller $7.0 billion advance.
The increase was led by so-called nonrevolving debt, closed-end loans for things such as autos, boats or educational expenses. More than half of nonrevolving credit consists of auto loans. The nonrevolving sector rose by $14.4 billion in November, after a $14.7 billion rise in October.
The report shows the Federal Reserve's campaign of lower interest rates, which began in January 2001, may be paying dividends in the form of increased economic activity. New car loan rates had moved lower during the year but dropped sharply after the Sept. 11 attacks as automakers lured hesitant car buyers by offering no-interest loans.
Wall Street analysts had expected a smaller gain. In a survey by Reuters, the average analyst forecast had called for only a $4.5 billion gain.