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Ahead Of The Bell: US Consumer Borrowing

The gains led economists to predict stronger economic growth at the start of the year. Consumer spending drives roughly 70 percent of economic growth.

One reason the tax increases haven't deterred consumers is the job market has improved in recent months.

Employers added an average of 200,000 jobs a month from November through February. That's nearly double the average from last spring. The gains helped lower the unemployment rate in February to a four-year low of 7.7 percent.

On Friday, the government will issue the March employment report. Economists forecast that the economy added 195,000 jobs last month, a healthy figure but below February's total of 236,000. The unemployment rate is expected to be unchanged.

Most economists predict the economy grew from January through March at an annual rate of about 3 percent. That would be a vast improvement from the previous quarter, when slower restocking and steep defense cuts held economic growth to an annual rate of just 0.4 percent.

The Federal Reserve's borrowing report covers auto loans, student loans and credit cards. It excludes mortgages, home equity loans and other loans tied to real estate.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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