Rural Mainstreet Economy Faces Tenth Month of Decline

For a 10th straight month, the overall Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI) sank below growth neutral, according to the June survey of bank CEOs in rural areas of a 10-state region dependent on agriculture and/or energy.

“Higher interest rates, weak agriculture commodity prices and sinking agriculture equipment sales pushed the overall reading below growth neutral for the 10th straight month,” said Ernie Goss, PhD, Jack A. MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business.

According to James Brown, president of Hardin County Savings Bank in Eldora, Iowa, “Farm operating loans are up 20% in total volume compared to last year, a sign that cash flow and cash (balances) are down from last year.”

Farm equipment sales: The farm equipment sales index for June dropped to 31.8 from 34.0 in May. “This is the 12th time in the past 13 months that the index has fallen below growth neutral. Higher borrowing costs, tighter credit conditions and weak grain prices are having a negative impact on the purchases of farm equipment,” said Goss.

Farming and ranching land prices: After rising above the growth neutral threshold for 53 straight months, the region’s farmland slumped below growth neutral for a second consecutive month to 49.9, but it was up from May’s 47.9. “Only 4.3% of bank CEOs reported that farmland prices expanded from May levels,” said Goss.

Confidence: Rural bankers remain very pessimistic about economic growth for their area over the next six months. The June confidence index increased to a very weak 29.2 from May’s 28.8. “Weak agriculture commodity prices and farm exports, combined with downturns in farm equipment sales over the past several months, continued to constrain banker confidence,” said Goss.