Concerns Over Trade Weigh Heavily on Rural Bankers

4/20/18 Rural Mainstreet Index
The Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI) is a monthly survey of rural bankers to gauge the health of the rural economy ( MGN )

OMAHA, Nebraska - A newly released index measuring the economic outlook in farm country took a beating as bankers expressed concern about trade tensions and the potential impact on the farm economy. “An unresolved North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and rising trade tensions with China are significant concerns,” said Ernie Goss, an economist with Creighton University and author of the Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI).

The confidence index is a sub-category of the broader RMI. It reflects expectations for the economy six months out. It sank from 58 in March to 50 this month. The index ranges between 0 and 100 with 50.0 representing growth neutral.

The overall RMI slipped in April but remained above growth neutral for a third straight month.

Goss said that indicates an upward trend with improving economic growth. “However, weak farm income continues to weigh on the rural economy,” said Goss.

The RMI also shows bankers in the ten-state district have concerns about un-resolved trade matters. Recent trade spats, including implemented and proposed tariffs against China, have reverberated throughout agricultural areas of the region.

More than three-fourths (76.2%) of bank CEOs reported that export markets were very important to their local economy.

The RMI survey showed almost one third (31%) of bankers support dismantling the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and striking a new agreement. Forty percent support the current pact with Canada and Mexico.

The index is based on the results of a monthly survey of bank CEOs in 200 rural and farming areas of a 10-state region covering parts of the Midwest and Great Plains. The average population is 1,300 people. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming are included.

 

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