After moving below growth neutral in February, the Rural Mainstreet economy has moved above the 50.0 threshold for two straight months according to today’s April survey of bank CEOs in a 10-state area.
Overall: The Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI), which ranges between 0 and 100, with 50.0 representing growth neutral, increased to 53.2 from 50.1 in March and 48.4 in February.
“The overall index for the Rural Mainstreet Economy indicates that the areas of the nation highly dependent on agriculture and energy are experiencing much slower growth than for the same period in 2013. However, recent boosts to agriculture commodity prices should boost the economy in the months ahead,” said Ernie Goss, the Jack A. MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics at Creighton University Heider College of Business.
This month bankers were asked to name the biggest challenge for farmers for this year’s planting season. Almost one-third, or 31.5 percent reported that low agriculture-commodity prices were the greatest threat to farming profitability. Approximately 27.8 named lack of adequate moisture and 27.6 indicated high input prices were the biggest challenges for crop farm operations. Another 13.0 percent indicated high cash rents represented the greatest 2014 challenge for crop farmers,”
Farming and ranching: The farmland and ranchland-price index for April increased slightly to 42.9 from March’s very weak 40.9. “This is the fifth straight month that the farmland and ranchland-price index has moved below growth neutral. With the Federal Reserve continuing to withdraw its economic stimulus, I expect rising interest rates to put even more downward pressures on farmland prices and cash rents,” said Goss.
Farm equipment sales remained below growth neutral for the 10th straight month. The April index rose to a frail 36.7 from March’s even weaker 29.3. “Agriculture equipment and implement dealers in the agriculture based areas are experiencing very weak sales to farmers in the region even as farm equipment manufacturers are experiencing positive growth due to healthy sales abroad,” said Goss.
This month bankers were also asked to estimate the breakeven price for corn production in their service area. “Bank CEOs, on average, indicated that the break-even corn price was approximately $4.30 per bushel. This is down from a breakeven price of $4.84 recorded in our February 2013 report,” said Goss.
Jim Ashworth, president of Carlinville National Bank in Carlinville, Ill., said, “Of course, break-even is different for each farmer; yet for mid-Illinois corn we believe our range is $3.75 - $4.25.”
Banking: The loan-volume index advanced to a robust 73.1 from March’s 65.5. The checking-deposit index slipped to 65.1 from 65.5 in March, while the index for certificates of deposit and other savings instruments dipped to 42.0 from March’s 42.5.
Hiring: Rural Mainstreet businesses continue to hire at a solid pace. The April hiring index advanced to a very healthy 64.0 from 60.0 in March. “While the farm economy slows, businesses on Rural Mainstreet continue to expand their payrolls. Despite growing job additions, Rural Mainstreet employment is still below its pre-recession level,” said Goss.
Confidence: The confidence index, which reflects expectations for the economy six months out, expanded to 54.0 from last month’s 47.3. “An improving national economy, higher agriculture commodity prices and passage of the farm bill pushed economic confidence among bankers higher for the month,” said Goss
Home and retail sales: The April home-sales index soared to 63.8 from March’s 51.8. The April retail-sales index rose to 50.0 from 49.2 in March. “Improving weather encouraged an upturn in home purchases and growth in an increase in the retail sales index.” said Goss.
Bankers were asked if new compliance regulations have caused their bank to no longer make owner -occupied residential real estate loans. More than one-fourth, or 25.4 percent, indicated that their banks were no longer making owner-occupied residential real estate loans as a result of greater regulation.
Furthermore, many other bankers reported that they would likely cease these loans in the future. For example, Dale Leighty, CEO of the First National Bank in Las Animas, Col., reported, “We are considering discontinuing residential loans due to regulations.”
Larry Rogers of the First Bank of Utica in Utica, Neb., indicated the workload and exam requirements associated with greater regulations have become a huge time consumer. Rogers said that the rising regulations would help no one in rural Nebraska.