Report: Midwest business conditions index rose in February

A business conditions index for nine Midwestern and Plains states rose over the past month, pointing to continued improvement in regional economic conditions, according to a report issued Thursday.

The Mid-America Business Conditions Index hit 59.7 in February, compared with 57.3 in January, the report said. The December figure was 59.0.

Good news abounded in several economic sectors, including manufacturing, the report said.

"At this point in time, according to our surveys, Mid-America manufacturing firms are outperforming their U.S. counterparts," said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey. "However, government data indicate that U.S. nonmanufacturing activity is exceeding that of Mid-American nonmanufacturing firms."

The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth in that factor. A score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

The February employment index jumped to 59.4, from 52.3 in January.

"Sixty percent of firms in our survey expect to add workers in the next six months," Goss said.

The wholesale inflation gauge continued to reflect inflationary pressures, climbing to 82.0 from January's 74.5.

"Both our regional wholesale inflation index and the U.S. inflation gauge are elevated" and are expected to showing up at the consumer level, Goss said. "As a result, I expect the Federal Reserve's interest rate setting committee to raise short-term interest rates by one-quarter of one percentage point at its next meeting on March 21," he said.

Looking ahead six months, the business confidence index dropped to a still strong 74.5 from 80.5 in January.

"Healthy profit growth, still low interest rates, and the recently passed tax reform package pushed business confidence into a range indicating vigorous business confidence," Goss said.