Midwest recovery a ‘fragile’ process

Published 9:10 am Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The herky-jerky results of a nine-state economic survey released Tuesday suggest that recovery is at an uncertain stage in the Midwest and Plains.

The Business Conditions Index for the Mid-America region slipped below growth neutral in August, to 48.4, compared with 51.7 in July and 49.3 in June. An index of 50.0 is considered growth neutral.

The latest figure surprised Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey of supply managers and other business executives.

Email newsletter signup

He said in his survey report that the August figures and other data point “to an economic recovery that is much more fragile than I anticipated.”

“Compared to the recovery from the 2001 recession, the current rebound appears to be much more subdued,” Goss said. “It is clear that the significant pullback in farm income is producing negative impacts on businesses … that have ties to this sector.”

The survey states are Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Goss said surveys over the past several months “are pointing to a weak economic rebound with elevated inflationary pressures in the months ahead.”

He said he expects the Federal Reserve to raise short-term interest rates or reduce its purchases of mortgage-backed securities before the end of the year.

“The Fed has got to prepare markets for a reduction in this record monetary stimulus, or risk allowing inflation to get out of control,” Goss said.

Despite the apparent uncertainty suggested by other results in the survey, the survey respondents remained optimistic.

The August confidence index rose to a strong 63.1 from 62.8 last month.

“Very low interest rates, both short-term and long-term, a stabilizing housing market and aggressive federal economic policy have clearly lifted the economic outlook of supply managers in the Mid-America region,” Goss said.

The employment index inched up in August to a still-anemic 44.2 from 43.0 in July.

“On an annualized basis, government data (show) that the region has lost jobs at a 1.5 percent pace over the past three months,” Goss said. “Our survey indicates that the rate of job losses will diminish in the months with only slightly higher unemployment rates for much of the region.

“I think the worst of the job losses are behind us,” Goss said. “However, job gains are not in the picture for the near term.”

The weak trade numbers in the August survey were consistent with a very weak economic rebound, Goss said. The imports index dropped to 47.5 from 52.9 in July. And he said new-export orders dropped to 44.7 from 45.1 in July.

Supply managers in the nine-state region are still holding the line on inventories, as evidenced by the August inventory index of 39.8, compared with 45.5 in July.

“We have yet to record any restocking of inventories for raw materials and supplies,” Goss said. “However, I expect inventory replenishments in the final quarter of 2009 to help stimulate the regional economy.”

Other components of the overall index:

 new orders at 50.0, down from July’s 58.3;

 production or sales at 53.0, down from July’s 58.7;

 and delivery lead time at 54.9, up from July’s 53.0.