Economy Watch: Consumers Borrow More for Schooling, Vehicles; Apartment Vacancies Dip; Vegas Residential Market Improves

Consumer borrowing rose at an annualized rate of 7 percent in November. U.S. apartment vacancy has declined by 20 basis points. And the total number of Vegas homes sold has gone up.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Consumer borrowing rose at an annualized rate of 7 percent in November, according to the Federal Reserve on Tuesday. The lion’s share of the increase was non-revolving credit, especially student loans, which was up an annualized rate of 9.5 percent. Revolving credit, which most consumers find in the form of plastic cards in their wallets, saw an annualized increase of only 1 percent in November.

Non-revolving borrowing jumped $15.2 billion for the month, marking the fourth increase in a row of more than $10 billion and the eight such increase since November 2011. Besides student loans, the increase in non-revolving borrowing also reflects strong car sales. Total outstanding non-revolving debt in November totaled a bit more than $1.91 trillion; total revolving debt was $858.4 billion.

The steady march of the federal government as a creditor continued, mostly because of student loans. In November, noted the Federal Reserve, borrowers owed the government $521.3 billion in non-revolving debt, or almost as much as they owe banks and other depository institutions, which was $539.1 billion (although banks also hold more than $682 billion in revolving debt, too). As recently as 2007, consumers owed the government only about $93 billion.

Apartment Vacancies Down in 4Q 

Reis Inc. reported on Tuesday that U.S. apartment vacancy declined by 20 basis points during the fourth quarter of 2012 to 4.5 percent. That was even better (for landlords) than during the third quarter, when the drop was only 10 basis points. On a year-over-year basis, the national vacancy rate declined by 70 basis points.

Absorption was up as well. In the fourth quarter, a net of 45,162 units were leased, compared with 24,951 units during the third quarter. Compared with the fourth quarter of 2011, however, net absorption was down from 47,396 units. Still, apartment absorption has been positive each quarter since the second quarter of ’09, so landlords have little to complain about on that front.

As demand has gone up, so has supply, though not enough for anyone to call it overbuilding. During all of 2012, said Reis, developers competed 66,846 new apartments units. That’s is an increase compared with all of 2011, when 42,290 were completed.

Vegas Residential Market Shows Some Improvement

The Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors reported on Tuesday that the total number of local homes, condos and townhomes sold in December was 3,624. That’s up from 3,293 in November, but down from 4,250 total sales in December 2011. The fate of the greater Vegas market is of particular interest because, by all measures, it was hit the hardest by the real estate crash of the late 2000s.

Inventories took a monthly dive in Vegas as well, which is a positive indicator for the market. The total number of homes listed for sale at the end of December on GLVAR’s MLS included 14,601 single-family homes, down 6.6 percent from the end of November, and down 24.1 percent from a year ago.

Wall Street had another down day on Tuesday, perhaps as the last of the post-cliff-deal giddiness finally went away. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 55.44 points, or 0.41 percent, while the S&P 500 declined 0.32 percent and the Nasdaq dropped 0.23 percent.

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