- For a seventh straight month the overall index rose above growth neutral.
- Bankers reported a decline in the sale of agriculture equipment and expect sales to decline by another 7.8 percent over the next 12 months.
- More than one-half of bankers supported cutting recently enacted tariffs.
- In reaction to weak farm commodity prices and income, almost one-third of bank CEOs reported rejecting a higher percentage of farm loans.
Overall: The overall index climbed to 54.8 from 53.8 in July. The index ranges between 0 and 100 with 50.0 representing growth neutral.
“Surveys over the past several months indicate the Rural Mainstreet economy is expanding outside of agriculture. However, the negative impacts of recent trade skirmishes have begun to surface, weakening already anemic grain prices,” said Ernie Goss, PhD, Jack A. MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business.
According to Jim Stanosheck, CEO of State Bank in Odell, Nebraska, “The tariffs have and are costing our ag customers on grain prices and items they must purchase. Talking to one of my customers this morning, he thought that maybe the tariffs would bring about better prices in the future.”
In reaction to weak farm commodity prices and income, almost one-third, or 31.0 percent, of bank CEOs reported rejecting a higher percentage of farm loans. More than half, or 54.8 percent, indicated raising collateral requirements, while 4.8 percent reported reducing the size of farm loans.
The August farm equipment-sales index fell to 37.8 from July’s 38.8. This marks the 60th consecutive month the reading has moved below growth neutral 50.0.
In terms of the sale of farm equipment over the next 12 months, bankers expect sales to decline by 7.8 percent.
Banking: Borrowing by farmers expanded for August, but at a slower pace than in July, as the loan-volume index declined to 72.2 from 76.9 in July. The checking-deposit index slumped to 36.0 from July’s 37.8, while the index for certificates of deposit and other savings instruments increased to 48.8 from 43.9 in July.
Hiring: The employment gauge improved to a very strong 68.7 from July’s 65.6. The Rural Mainstreet economy is now experiencing positive job growth. Over the past 12 months, the Rural Mainstreet economy added jobs at a 1.1 percent pace.
Confidence: The confidence index, which reflects expectations for the economy six months out, rose to a weak 46.5 from July’s 42.7, indicating a pessimistic economic outlook among bankers.
“Just as last month, an unresolved North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), rising trade tensions/tariffs with China and opening trade battles with Turkey are big concerns,” said Goss.
Bankers were asked their position on recently implemented and proposed tariffs on imported goods. More than half, or 51.1 percent, support cutting or eliminating those tariffs. Approximately 41.9 percent support continuing current tariffs and trade policy while 7.0 percent endorse pursuing a more hawkish approach by raising tariffs.
Jeffrey Gerhart, chairman of the Bank of Newman Grove, Newman Grove, Nebraska, said, “Agriculture has been hurt and will continue to be hurt by the current trade war. Tariffs are not good for our farmers. Tariffs are not the answer.”
Home and Retail Sales: The home-sales index decreased to a still healthy 63.1 from 65.9 in July. Retail sales improved for the month to 53.5 from July’s 51.2.
Brian Nicklason, president of Woodland Bank in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, reported that, “In the past six months we have had three small locally owned business retailers close. Very little is ‘Amazon-proof’ and we seem to be becoming more reliant on national chains and fast food. I hope we are not losing our identity.”
This survey represents an early snapshot of the economy of rural agriculturally and energy-dependent portions of the nation. The Rural Mainstreet Index (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. Goss and Bill McQuillan, former chairman of the Independent Community Banks of America, created the monthly economic survey in 2005. Below are the state reports:
Colorado: Colorado’s Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI) for August fell to 55.8 from 57.3 in July. The farmland and ranchland-price index expanded to 45.1 from July’s 43.2. Colorado’s hiring index for August soared to 69.5 from July’s 60.8. Colorado’s 2017 export of agriculture commodities was $109.4 million.
Illinois: The August RMI for Illinois declined to 54.1 from 57.9 in July. The farmland-price index rose to 45.0 from July’s 43.0. The state’s new-hiring index jumped to 68.4 from last month’s 61.2. According to Jim Eckert, president of Anchor State Bank in Anchor, “Moisture is short in our area. Corn looks good, but producers think yields will be down somewhat from last year. Soybeans could still benefit from rain.” Illinois' 2017 export of agriculture commodities was $2.9 billion.
Iowa: The August RMI for Iowa climbed to 56.8 from 56.0 in July. Iowa’s farmland-price index for August rose to 44.1 from July’s 42.1. Iowa’s new-hiring index for August jumped to 59.1 from July’s 50.1. Iowa’s 2017 export of agriculture commodities was $1.5 billion.
Kansas: The Kansas RMI for August slipped to 56.3 from July’s 56.9. The state’s farmland-price index increased to 45.3 from 43.0 in July. The new-hiring index for Kansas rocketed to 71.7 from 58.8 in July. Kansas’s 2017 export of agriculture commodities was $1.6 billion.
Minnesota: The August RMI for Minnesota dipped to 53.1 from July’s 54.8. Minnesota’s farmland-price index rose to 44.0 from 42.1 in July. The new-hiring index jumped to 59.0 from July’s 50.4. Pete Haddeland, CEO of the First National Bank in Mahnomen, said, “Crops look good; prices not so good.” Minnesota’s 2017 export of agriculture commodities was $621.4 million.
Missouri: The August RMI for Missouri fell to 56.4 from 58.7 in July. The farmland-price index for the state increased to 45.3 from July’s 43.7. Missouri’s new-hiring index for August climbed to 72.0 from July’s 66.1. Missouri’s 2017 export of agriculture commodities was $498.7 million.
Nebraska: The Nebraska RMI for August sank to 55.2 from 56.3 in July. The state’s farmland-price index increased to 44.9 from last month’s 43.7. Nebraska’s new-hiring index rose to 67.4 from 56.5 in July. Nebraska's 2017 export of agriculture commodities was $918.6 million.
North Dakota: The North Dakota RMI for August advanced to 52.4 from July’s 51.2. The state’s farmland-price index moved higher to 43.8 from 40.7 in July. The state’s new-hiring index increased to 56.1 from 36.3 in July. North Dakota’s 2017 export of agriculture commodities was $462.7 million.
South Dakota: The August RMI for South Dakota remained above growth neutral but fell to 55.4 from July’s 56.3. The state’s farmland-price index increased to 44.9 from July’s 42.7. South Dakota's new-hiring index climbed to 67.8 from 56.5 in July. South Dakota’s 2017 export of agriculture commodities was $40.4 million.
Wyoming: The August RMI for Wyoming fell to 56.4 from July’s 57.1. The August farmland and ranchland-price index advanced to 45.4 from July’s 43.1. Wyoming’s new-hiring index soared to 72.1 from 59.9 in July. Wyoming’s 2017 export of agriculture commodities was $4.9 million.