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After a mid-summer slump, a monthly assessment of the rural economy has improved to its highest levels since June of this year.
The Rural Mainstreet Index stayed in positive territory for the second month in a row, hitting 51.4 in October after September's 50.1. Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy, while a score below 50 indicates a shrinking economy.
The index, a real-time analysis of the rural economy in 10 states, is based on a survey of bank CEOs in some 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300.
Higher grain prices and federal crop support contributed to the higher reading this month, said Ernie Goss, an economics professor at Creighton University's Heider College of Business, which produces the index.
Goss cautioned, however, that "almost three of four bank CEOs, or 73%, reported continuing negative impacts from the trade war."
The confidence index, which measures bank CEO expectations for the economy six months out, reflected that anxiety, falling to 36.5 from September's 42.9.
"This is the lowest economic confidence we have recorded in two years," said Goss. "The trade war with China and the lack of passage of [a replacement for NAFTA] are driving confidence and growth lower for most areas of the region."
Meanwhile, hiring in rural America remained healthy this month despite a slight drop in the employment gauge to 59.7, compared to 62.5 in September. "Despite tariffs and flooding over the past several months, Rural Mainstreet businesses continue to hire at a solid pace," the October report said.