Rural bankers have scrapped any hope of a recovery this year from the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a monthly assessment of the rural economy.
Expectations for the economy over the next six months sank to 22.1, down sharply from April’s 27.4, according to the “confidence portion” of this month’s Rural Mainstreet Index. Any score below 50 indicates a shrinking economy.
“Weak agriculture commodity prices and layoffs have decimated economic confidence among bankers,” said Ernie Goss, a professor at Creighton University’s College of Business, which produces the index.
The index, a real-time analysis of the rural economy in 10 states, is based on a survey of bank CEOs in some 200 communities with an average population of 1,300.
May’s overall index inched up to 12.5 from April’s record low of 12.1. Still, this month’s result represented the third straight month with close to record lows.
“Since this time last year, livestock and grain prices have sunk by 19.1% and 4.7%, respectively,” said Goss.
This month’s index also reports that three of every four bankers surveyed reported restructuring farm loans to deal with weak farm income from lower livestock and grain prices.
“As a result of the restructuring, bank CEOs expect farm loan defaults to expand by only 5.4% in the next 12 months,” Goss said.
The latest Rural Mainstreet Index also contains data from U.S. Bankruptcy Courts on family farm defaults. For the 12-month period ending March 2020, there were 627 filings for family farm bankruptcies, a 23% increase from the previous 12 months. Forty-one of those bankruptcies were in the Rural Mainstreet region, and states with the largest increases were Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota. States recording fewer bankruptcies were North Dakota, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.