Meanwhile household net worth rose 3.8% in the fourth quarter, for a 13.8% year-over-year increase.
The economic implications of these increases are unclear. Rising household debt could signal increased consumer confidence and willingness to spend, but it could also indicate an increased need to borrow to maintain spending levels in face of anemic personal-income growth.
Likewise, the net-worth increase has ambiguous implications.
Of the $9.8 trillion rise in 2013, 86% resulted from market-price-driven capital gains on assets, rather than income and saving. Those holdings and gains are heavily concentrated among 20% of the population, muting the potential "wealth effect" on real-economy spending, investment, production, and growth.
Steve Roth an investor and serial entrepreneur in Seattle. He blogs at Asymptosis.com.
At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.
This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.