Survey gives continuing signs of Midwest economic doldrums

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The economy continues to slow in nine Midwestern and Plains states because crop and energy prices remain low and the strong dollar is hurting exports, according to a survey released Monday.

The region’s overall economy index remained in weak territory and declined to 39.6 in December, from 40.7 in November. Any figure below 50 suggests a slowing economy.

“The U.S. dollar strengthened by almost 10 percent in 2015. This along with economic weakness among the nation’s chief trading partners has squeezed, and will continue to squeeze, U.S. and regional manufacturers,” said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the monthly survey.

Business leaders were a bit more optimistic this month. The December confidence index improved to 49.1, from November’s 41.2.

Business leaders are asked about a variety of factors each month and the results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests economic growth. A score below that suggests decline.

The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

The employment index fell to 37.1 in December, from November’s 41.7. Goss said the region has lost about 18,000 manufacturing jobs over the past year, which represents about 1 percent of such jobs.

“Areas and industries heavily dependent on manufacturing, especially those linked to exports, agriculture and energy, are experiencing the largest losses,” Goss said.

The export order index declined to 33.8 in December, from November’s already weak 39.5. The import index grew to 40 in December, from 37 in November.

“The strong U.S. dollar, making U.S. goods less competitively priced abroad, and a weaker global economy, slammed new export orders for the month,” Goss said.

The wholesale inflation index increased to 48.2 in December, from November’s 42.6.

The inventory index also increased to 43.6, from November’s 39.2.

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