Mid-America Economy Ends First Quarter on High Note:
Concerns Raised Over Trade Skirmishes
March survey results at a glance:
- Leading economic indicator advances pointing to improving regional growth.
- Supply managers expect wages to expand by 1.8 percent over the next year.
- Growth in new export orders remains solid.
- Regional employment rises to record level and well above pre-recession level.
For Immediate Release: April 1, 2014
OMAHA, Neb. – The Mid-America Business Conditions Index for March, a leading economic indicator for a nine-state region stretching from North Dakota to Arkansas, points to positive and improving growth in the next three to six months.
Overall index: The Business Conditions Index, which ranges between 0 and 100, climbed to 58.2 from 57.4 in February.
“Much like the national economy, the Mid-America region continues to expand with growth prospects improving monthly. Despite negative fallout from severe weather for the first quarter of the year, supply managers reported healthy business activity for the first three months of 2014,” said Ernie Goss, Ph.D., director of Creighton University’s Economic Forecasting Group and the Jack A. MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics in the Heider College of Business.
Employment: After declining below growth neutral for December, the employment gauge has remained above the threshold for the third straight month. The employment index dipped slightly to a still solid 54.4 from 55.6 in February.
“According to surveys over the past several months, the region will continue to expand employment at a solid pace. Even with the improving job picture, supply managers expect wage growth to remain weak with an average wage expansion of 1.8 percent for the next year. This is only slightly above the 1.6 percent recorded last year at this time,” said Goss.
Wholesale Prices: For the first time since November of last year, the prices-paid index, which tracks the cost of raw materials and supplies, declined. The wholesale inflation gauge fell to a still strong 72.8 from 75.7 in February.
Inflationary pressures at the wholesale level are elevated from the same time last year. This month supply managers in the region were asked to estimate growth in the prices for raw materials and supplies purchased by their firm in the next six months. “On average, respondents expect prices to expand by 2.4 percent in the next six months or approximately 4.8 percent annualized. This is two full percentage points lower, on an annualized basis, than was reported by firms in March of last year,” said Goss.
Confidence: Looking six months ahead, economic optimism, as captured by the March business confidence index, declined to a strong 59.0 from February’s 59.7. “Improvements in the job market supported supply managers’ business outlook for the month. However, several supply managers raised concerns regarding Russian trade embargoes associated the Russia’s recent invasion of Crimea. There is a fear that any restrictions could result in retaliation,” said Goss.
Inventories: The inventory index, which tracks the level of raw materials and supplies, dipped to 57.6 from February’s 59.7. “While the rate of inventory expansion slowed, March’s solid inventory index is yet another signal that supply managers are more upbeat about the economy as they increased inventories in anticipation of expanding sales for their companies in the months ahead,” said Goss.
Trade: The new export orders index declined to a still solid 54.1 from 55.4 in February. The import index for March rose to 54.2 from 52.4 in February. “It is a very encouraging signal to track a fifth straight month of healthy new export orders.” said Goss. “ At the same time, firms in the region continued purchasing from abroad in expectations of upturns in company sales in the weeks and months ahead.
Other components: Other components of the March Business Conditions Index were new orders at 58.5, up from 53.4 in February; production or sales at 61.1, down from February’s 61.7; and delivery lead time at 59.4, up from February’s 56.8.
The Creighton Economic Forecasting Group has conducted the monthly survey of supply managers in nine states since 1994 to produce leading economic indicators of the Mid-America economy. States included in the survey are Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
The forecasting group’s overall index, referred to as the Business Conditions Index, ranges between 0 and 100. An index greater than 50 indicates an expansionary economy over the course of the next three to six months. The Business Conditions Index is a mathematical average of indices for new orders, production or sales, employment, inventories and delivery lead time. This is the same methodology used by the National Institute for Supply Management, formerly the Purchasing Management Association, since 1931.
Survey results for April will be released on the first business day of next month, May 1.
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