Survey suggests little economic growth in Midwest

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Little or no economic growth is likely this year in most of the nine Midwest and Plains states covered by a survey of business leaders, but the booming oil business will continue to drive growth in North Dakota and Oklahoma, according to the report released Monday.

The region's overall economic index improved to a weak 50.4 in September from August's 49.7.

Any score above 50 suggests economic growth in the months ahead, while a score below 50 suggests a decline. North Dakota's state economic index hit 61.6 in September, and Oklahoma's registered 56.6 thanks to the oil boom.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, said concerns about U.S. fiscal policy, the elections, inflation and Europe's economic turmoil slowed the economy.

"Supply managers, much like the entire business sector, remain very pessimistic regarding future economic conditions," Goss said.

The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

The region's employment index remained negative, slipping to 46.1 in September from August's 49.5. Goss said that's the lowest jobs index since the recession ended in 2009.

"I expect the regional economy to lose both manufacturing and non-manufacturing jobs, albeit at a slow pace, in the final quarter of 2012," Goss said.

Job gains in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Iowa will be offset by job losses in the other six states, he predicted. While strength in the energy industry is fueling growth in North Dakota and Oklahoma, Iowa is growing mostly because of strong manufacturing performance.

The prices-paid index increased to 66 in September from August's 65.2, suggesting inflation ahead.

"The combination of drought conditions and the Federal Reserve's easy or cheap money policies are driving the wholesale level higher," Goss said.

The confidence index, which measures how optimistic business leaders are about the next six months, registered 44.7 in September. That was slightly better than August's 44.3.

The inventory index grew to 49.2 in September from August's 47.3. That suggests that the decline of inventory levels in the region is slowing.

The export order index increased to 48.7 in September from August's 48.3. The import index declined to 48.9 from August's 51.4.

"Given the importance of exports to past regional growth, the downturn in new export orders is another factor that will contribute to a final quarter that is lackluster," Goss said.

Other components of the September index were:

— New orders at 48.7, up from August's 46.1.

— Production or sales up to 51.7 in September from 49.5.

— And delivery lead time at 56.4, up from August's 56.2.