Fed Survey of Arkansas Shows 'Modest Optimism' About 2014 Economy

A November survey of business contacts in 62 Arkansas counties showed "modest optimism" about the strength of the economy in 2014, according to a regular report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The most recent "Burgundy Book" report of the Fed's "Little Rock zone" said two-thirds of those surveyed expect economic conditions to be "better" or "somewhat better" next year.

Click here (PDF) to download the complete report.

The quarterly survey takes snapshots of several economic sectors in four zones of the Fed's Eighth District: St. Louis, Little Rock, Louisville and Memphis. The Little Rock zone includes 2.5 million people in all but Arkansas' 13 northeastern most counties, which fall into the Memphis zone.

The survey looks at business conditions in labor markets, manufacturing, real estate and construction, the household sector, banking and finance, and agriculture and natural resources.

The report cited "healthy growth" in private-sector employment during the third quarter, when the zone's unemployment rate averaged 7.1 percent, unchanged from the previous quarter. It said the state's economy benefitted from "a burst of manufacturing exports that has outpaced that seen nationally."

In specific sectors, Arkansas' economy looks like this:

Residential housing - The report called conditions "mixed" during the quarter. Single-family building permits fell in most areas, but home sales rose "sharply" in the Little Rock metropolitan statisical area. "House prices remain on an upward trajectory in most areas, though continuing at a slower rate than those seen nationally," the report said.

Household budgets - Like other areas in the country, households in the Little Rock zone continued to reduce outstanding debt, both mortgage debt and credit card balances. The report said delinquency rates on credit card debts are now below pre-recession levels.

Banks - As net interest margins rise and loan quality improves, Arkansas banks are, on average, "significantly more profitable" than their peers in other states.

Agriculture - Corn and soybean production was expected to be "sharply higher" in 2013, while cotton and rice production was expected to decline "markedly" compared with 2012.