Survey shows hope for recovery even as economic indices drop

Published 7:01 am Saturday, May 2, 2020

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OMAHA, Neb.  — The latest survey of supply managers in a nine-state region of the Midwest and Plains shows that many are holding out hope for an economic rebound later this year, even though the coronavirus has knocked the region for a loop.

The Mid-American Business Conditions index plummeted in April to 35.1 from March’s already-anemic 46.7, according to a survey report released Friday. April’s index was the lowest since February 2009, during the Great Recession.

But the survey’s confidence index suggested that business leaders have more hope for recovery over the next six months. The index soared to 45.5 in April, up from March’s 14.5.

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“The federal stimulus plan, the Federal Reserve monetary incentive programs, and the rebound in U.S. stock markets boosted confidence from March’s record lows,” said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey.

Still, other indices painted a grim picture. The April employment index bottomed out at 26.2 — its lowest level since the survey began in 1993. The March employment index was an already-weak 34.7.

U.S. Labor Department data showed that only 164,040 workers in the nine-state region were unemployed and receiving unemployment insurance benefits, in mid-March, Goss said.

“By the first week of April, 980,196 workers were receiving unemployment insurance benefits,” Goss said.

The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth. A score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Goss echoed comments he made last month, insisting that the recent survey results indicating a recession have not been solely caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The coronavirus had a less significant impact on the manufacturing sector than other areas of the economy more directly tied to the consumer,” Goss said. “This is a consumer-led recession with manufacturing lagging. As a result, I expect the manufacturing to worsen in next month.”

Regional trade numbers were split in the April survey, the report said. The index for new export orders tumbled to 19.4, from March’s 34.7, while the import index rose to 38.7, from 32.7 in March.

In three other measures of economic health, the index for new orders sank to 21.0, from March’s 40.0, and the index for production or sales plunged to 23.3, from March’s 37.8. The index gauging speed of deliveries of raw materials and supplies dipped slightly to 68.3, from March’s 68.4, reflecting slower deliveries and/or shipping difficulties.