ag copy-m6864 BC-NE-BankersSurvey 1stLd-Writethru 11-21 0610

Associated Press

OMAHA — A survey of bankers in Iowa, Minnesota and nine other states suggests the rural economy is still faltering and that there is little confidence things will look much brighter in six months.

The Rural Mainstreet Index, compiled from a survey of bank CEOs, hit its fourth record low in a row, according to a report released Friday.

The November figure of 22.1 follows record lows of 34.4 in October, 38.5 in September and 38.9 in August.

A year ago, the index was 54.1, well above growth-neutral figure of 50.


The confidence index hit 13.0 in November, less than half the already dour outlook suggested by a figure of 27.2 in October.

"The national recession and the global economic slowdown have begun to take a toll on the rural Mainstreet economy," said Creighton University economics professor Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey.

Goss and Bill McQuillan, CEO of City National Bank in Greeley, Neb., created the monthly economic survey of rural bank CEOs in 11 states: Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The average community population covered by the survey is about 1,300.

"As agricultural-commodity prices have tumbled, farmland price growth has now moved into negative territory for the first time since we began the survey in 2005," Goss said in a news release. "After peaking at 81 in January of this year, the index declined to 45.2 for November, a record low, and well below October’s 60.5."

The survey report suggested the regional outlook for new hires was gloomy.

The hiring index hit a record low of 23.6 this month, down 12.2 percentage points from October’s 35.8.

It was the 11th month in a row that the new-hiring index had been below growth-neutral, Goss said, "due in part to a national economy that is negatively affecting growth for Rural Mainstreet."


The survey’s bank indicators were mixed but didn’t suggest any particular signs of distress, Goss’ report said.

Jeffrey Gerhart, CEO of the Bank of Newman Grove in Newman Grove, Neb., said "prudent, commonsense lending has never gone out of style, and we have never stopped making loans in our community."

The Rural Mainstreet home-sales index dipped to a very weak 20.6 from 29.0 in October and 32.0 in September.

The rural slowdown also is dragging down sales of new farm equipment.

That index remained below growth-neutral for the second month in a row, coming in at 43.4, compared with 47.2 in October.

The outlook for rural retail sales also remained anemic.

That index hit a record low of 18.6, compared with 28.3 in October.

Said Brian Nicklason, president of Woodland Bank in Remer, Minn.: "We had hoped that the lower gas prices would bring more tourists and hunters to our area this fall. But, in talking to our retail merchants, we are seeing lower overall lower sales.


"We are also seeing higher vacancy rates with our motels, hotels and resorts," he said. "It might be a very cold winter."

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