After moving below growth neutral in August, the Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI) rose in October above 50.0 for a second straight month , indicating that the rural ag-dependent areas of the region are growing, but at a very slow rate, according to this month’s survey of bank CEOs in a 10-state region.
Ernest Goss, Jack MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics at Creighton University , says the survey results over the past several months, similar to national surveys, indicate that the economy is growing but at an anemic pace. However, companies linked to agriculture continue to experience healthy growth. Overall, the RMI, which ranges between 0 and 100, advanced to 52.9 for October from 52.2 in September  and 49.3 in August. Here’s a look at the breakdown in rural economic activity:
Farming: The farmland price index was unchanged at a solid 66.9 for October. This is the 21st straight month the index has been above growth neutral. The farm equipment sales index slipped to a still strong 63.1 from September’s 65.4. Throughout the region, bankers are reporting very strong growth in farmland prices. One banker in Storm Lake, IA, reported a recent farmland sale of $13,000/acre. Current high ag-commodity prices and record-low interest rates are supporting these prices. One concern is that a sharp upturn in the value of the dollar, as happened with the failure of Lehman Brothers in 2008, could take some of the air out of this price bubble by pushing ag-commodity prices lower.
This month, bankers were asked to project 2012 cash rents for farmland. On average, an 8.2% gain is expected for 2012. Approximately 18% of the bankers expect cash rents to grow by more than 16%. One in 10 bankers expect growth to range between 11% and 15% while one-third of the bank CEOs anticipate that cash rents will advance between 6% and 10% next year. Approximately 39% expect growth in cash rents to be less than 6%.
Banking: The loan volume index for October sank to 57.3 from 62.5 in September. The checking deposit index soared to 71.7 from September’s 60.3, while the index for certificates of deposit and other savings instruments rose to a weak 44.9 from 41.2 last month.
Jobs: October’s job index climbed to 56.4 from 54.7 in September. Year-over-year job growth for RMI communities is about triple that of metropolitan areas of the region. Even with the recent strength, employment for RMI communities is down about 3.1% from pre-recession levels.
Confidence: The economic confidence index, which reflects expectations for the economy six months out, was unchanged from September’s 50.0. While the index stood at growth neutral 50.0, bankers remain less than optimistic about future economic conditions, compared to last year at this time.
Home and retail sales: For a third straight month, the RMI home sales moved below growth neutral to 49.3, but up slightly from September’s 48.5. The retail sales index for October advanced to an anemic 49.3 from September’s 47.1. Heading into the holiday buying season, readings like this are not encouraging for RMI merchants.
Each month, community bank presidents and CEOs in nonurban, agriculturally and energy-dependent portions of the 10-state area are surveyed regarding current economic conditions in their communities and their projected economic outlooks six months down the road. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming are included.
This survey represents an early snapshot of the economy of rural, ag- and energy-dependent portions of the nation. RMI is a unique index covering 10 regional states, focusing on approximately 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300. It gives the most current real-time analysis of the rural economy.
Colorado: For the 10th straight month, Colorado’s RMI remained above growth neutral. The index for October rose to 54.3 from 53.2 in September. The farmland and ranchland price index was unchanged from September’s 67.1. Colorado’s farm equipment sales index for October slipped to a strong 63.6 from September’s 65.7. RMI Colorado experienced a net gain in jobs of 5.5% over the past year.
Illinois: The RMI for Illinois remained above growth neutral for the 18th straight month. The October index advanced to 53.7 from 53.1 in September. Farmland prices remained significantly above growth neutral with a reading of 67.0, down slightly from September’s 67.4. The state’s new hiring index advanced to 56.9 from September’s 51.9. RMI Illinois experienced a net gain in jobs of 1.9% over the past year.
Iowa: The RMI for Iowa climbed to 54.6 from 53.9 in September. The farmland price index advanced to a strong 69.2 from September’s 67.2. Iowa’s new hiring index for October was a healthy 57.5, up from 55.8 in September. RMI Iowa experienced a net gain in jobs of 0.9% over the past year.
Kansas: After declining below growth neutral for August, the RMI for Kansas has increased two straight months with an October reading of 52.9, up from 52.2 in September. The farmland price index dipped to 64.5 from September’s 66.9. The state’s new hiring index advanced to 56.4 from September’s 54.6. Dale Bradley, CEO of The Citizens State Bank in Miltonvale, says, “The farm economy is still holding up well in our area.” RMI Kansas experienced a net gain in jobs of 0.7% over the past year.
Minnesota: The October RMI for Minnesota expanded to 53.4 from 52.6 in September. Minnesota’s farmland price index climbed to 68.2 from September’s 67.0. The state’s new hiring index rose to 56.7 from September’s 54.9. Pete Haddeland, CEO of First National Bank in Mahnomen, says, “It has been a great fall for our farmers.” RMI Minnesota experienced a net gain in jobs of 2% over the past year.
Missouri: The RMI for Missouri grew to 52.6 from September’s 52.0. The farmland price index for Missouri expanded to 66.8 from 61.0 in September. The state’s new hiring index advanced to 56.2 from 54.5 in September. RMI Missouri experienced a net loss in jobs of 2.9% the past year.
Nebraska: The October RMI for Nebraska declined to 53.5 from 56.8 in September. The farmland price index dipped to 65.3 from 67.0 in September. The state’s new hiring index stood at 56.8, up from 55.1 in September. Kathy Thuman, president of Farmers State Bank in Maywood, says, “With harvest getting underway, corn yields are looking extremely good in Southwest Nebraska.” RMI Nebraska experienced a net gain in jobs of 2.1% over the past year.
North Dakota: The North Dakota RMI climbed to a regional high of 55.8 from September’s 55.1. The farmland price index increased to 71.2 from 67.4 in September. The state’s new hiring index was a solid 58.3, up from 56.6 in September. RMI North Dakota experienced a net gain in jobs of 9.7% over the past year.
South Dakota: South Dakota’s RMI for October expanded to 53.3 from September’s 52.4. The farmland price index soared to 67.0 from 60.1 in September. South Dakota's new hiring index for October rose to 56.6 from 55.1 in September. RMI South Dakota experienced a net gain in jobs of 1.2% over the past year.
Wyoming: The Wyoming RMI for October increased to 53.9 from September’s 52.9. The October farmland and ranchland price index dipped to 66.7 from 67.0 in September. The state’s new hiring index expanded to 57.1 from 55.2 in September. Bob Sutter, vice chairman of Hilltop National Bank in Casper, says, “Most indicators remain strong for Wyoming with new apartment complexes filling up as they are completed. Home sales are strong and the energy industry continues to ‘raise the tide’ for Wyoming.” RMI Wyoming experienced a net gain in jobs of 3.5% over the past year.