After a dip in November, America's rural economy is ending the year on a positive note.
Rural Mainstreet Index for December climbed to 54.2 from November's 49.9, the 10th time the index moved above growth-neutral in the past 12 months.
The index ranges from 0 to 100 with 50 representing growth-neutral. It kicked off the year at 46.8 in January 2018.
A troubled farm sector was a factor in rural economic performance this past year, said Ernie Goss, a business professor at the Heider College of Business at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.
"Our surveys over the last several months indicate the rural Main Street economy is expanding outside of agriculture," said Goss. "However, the negative impacts of tariffs and low agriculture commodity prices continue to weaken the farm sector."
More than half of the community bankers in 10 states surveyed for the index said they've boosted collateral requirements for farms loans because of weak agricultural income.
"Approximately one in 10 bank CEOs project 2019 farm loan defaults to rise by over 10 percent over 2018 levels," the report notes.
RMI's confidence index, an expression of bank CEO expectations for the economy six months out, also reflects a pessimistic outlook, slumping to 44.3 in December from 47.0 in November.
"As in the last several months, tariffs, trade tensions, and weak agriculture commodity prices negatively influenced the economic outlook of bank CEOs," said Goss.
The index did have a bright spot when it came to jobs. While the employment measure fell to 57.1 in December from November's 66.1, job growth is still healthy.
"Over the last 12 months, the rural Main Street economy added jobs at 1.4 percent compared to a higher 1.5 percent for urban areas," according to the report.