Amid the news of falling oil prices and a slowing global economy in contrast to a comparatively strong U.S. economy, two monthly surveys by Creighton University offer a somewhat muddled picture of economic growth in three Ninth District states.
The Rural Mainstreet Index asks community bank presidents and CEOs in rural areas of a 10-state region (including Minnesota and the Dakotas) about current economic conditions and six-month outlook in roughly 200 small communities.
Since mid-2013, the overall index has stayed mostly in expansion territory (an index score of 50 or more). But the index has dipped into contraction on a couple of occasions—particularly for South Dakota—and the general slope of sentiment is slightly downward (see Chart 1).
The good news: Respondents have been upbeat on new hires, with particularly strong scores in Minnesota and North Dakota. The less good news: Sentiment toward farmland prices has tumbled, especially in Minnesota and South Dakota, most likely stemming from low crop prices over this period. Aside from a single-month blip, North Dakota’s farmland index has stay strongly in expansion territory, most likely the result of the state’s very strong economy, with farmland prices possibly being buoyed by demand from nonfarmers.
A second survey by Creighton, the Mid-America Business Conditions Index, compiles monthly data from manufacturing, purchasing and supply executives in the same 10-state region (and also including Minnesota and the Dakotas). Overall, respondents in these Ninth District states have reported solid expansion, with the overall index slightly upward over the past year (see Chart 2). After a big uptick in employment sentiment, index scores dropped over the summer, but respondents in Minnesota and North Dakota continued to see healthy expansion in the latest surveys. In both manufacturing indexes (overall and employment), South Dakota has seen its scores dip of late, and they appear to be trending downward.