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Examiner
  • Jeff Fox: Housing paces a modest economic uptick

  • I didn’t see a lot of surprises in last week’s Federal Reserve Beige Book report, which suggests a Midwest economy that continues to slowly, modestly improve – with significant upturns in the building and selling of homes.

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  • I didn’t see a lot of surprises in last week’s Federal Reserve Beige Book report, which suggests a Midwest economy that continues to slowly, modestly improve – with significant upturns in the building and selling of homes.
    “Residential real estate showed brisk improvement ... but commercial real estate activity was flat. Strong residential real estate sales continued to push prices higher and to decrease the stock of residential inventory. ... Expectations for future housing activity were high due to traditional increases during the spring and summer months,” reads the Kansas City Federal Reserve’s portion of the Beige Book, which is released eight times a year.
    There are 12 Federal Reserve districts across the country, and each periodically surveys business contacts in construction, retailing, manufacturing, agriculture, energy production and other sectors. Add all that up and you get a nationwide picture, which in the latest report is one of economic activity expanding “at a modest to moderate pace” in the first few weeks of 2013. Consumers are spending, banks are lending, and inflation generally remains in check.
    Closer to home, the KC Fed looks at the prairies and plains from western Missouri to Wyoming to Oklahoma. It noted slower retail sales and flat sales for the next three months or so, though autos are selling better than a year ago.
    Other findings from the region:
    • “Factory managers continued to be moderately optimistic about future activity. Production, new orders, and shipments were all expected to grow over the next few months,” the KC Fed says.
    • Housing is benefitting from low interest rates and improved consumer confidence. Low- and medium-priced homes are selling better than high-end homes. New-home starts are expected to pick up in the months ahead, and that’s in line with figures posted by the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City.
    • Things aren’t great on the jobs front. “Wage prices continued to be weak ... but there was some upward pressure on prices,” the KC Fed says.
    “Firms continued to report changes in health-care policy and fiscal uncertainty as reasons for delayed hiring,” it adds. “However, contacts in high-tech services, transportation services and auto dealerships noted they wished to hire, but were unable to find qualified skilled labor.”
    • Manufacturing slipped in the first part of 2013 but “production, new orders, and shipments were all expected to grow over the next six months,” the Fed says.
    The Creighton Economic Forecasting Group at Creighton University in Omaha says basically the same thing. Looking specifically at Missouri, it posted a slightly improved “business conditions index” for the state as of March 1.
    “Missouri’s unemployment rate continues to move lower with the current jobless rate down a full three percentage points since the national economic recovery began in 2009,” the Creighton Group says. “Heavy or durable goods manufacturers in the state, such as metal producers, continue to experience healthy growth while nondurable goods producers are encountering downturns in economic activity. Over the next three to six months, Missouri’s economic growth will slow but remain positive according to our surveys.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Check out Extension
    Cynthia Zluticky, who runs the University of Missouri Extension office in Blue Springs, has been promoted to regional director of the urban region. The change took effect in January.
    “I’ve worked in extension by whole career. It’s a pretty exciting opportunity,” said Zlyticky, who has been with Missouri Extension for 10 years and was in the same field in Nebraska for 13 years before that.
    I’ve always thought of the Extension Service as one of this community’s gems, easy to take for granted. It offers a wide range of programs and helpful specialists, and its website – http://extension.missouri.edu/ – is deep with resources. Sure, there’s plenty on growing, canning and cooking the perfect tomato, but click on the “business and careers” tab sometime for a wealth of classes and ideas.
    Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s business editor. Reach him at 816-350-6313 or jeff.fox@examiner.net. Follow him on Twitter @FoxEJC.
     
     

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