ST. LOUIS—A February survey of business contacts in the Little Rock Zone of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis revealed improving optimism for the second consecutive quarter. In fact, roughly eight in 10 respondents expect economic conditions to be better in their area this year than in 2014.
The information was published March 24 in the latest quarterly release of the Burgundy Books, a publication produced by the St. Louis Fed. The reports offer comprehensive economic information for each of the bank’s four zones: St. Louis, Little Rock, Ark., Louisville, Ky., and Memphis, Tenn.
The Little Rock Zone includes the majority of Arkansas, except the northeast part of the state. The population in the Zone is approximately 2.5 million people, including the 710,000 who live in the Little Rock metropolitan statistical area (MSA).
Nonfarm payroll employment rose 0.7 percent in the Little Rock MSA in the fourth quarter of 2014. Employment growth was considerably stronger in the Fayetteville, Ark., MSA but modestly weaker in the Fort Smith, Ark., and Texarkana, Tx.-Ark., MSAs. Gains in exports resulted in strong manufacturing employment growth in Arkansas in the fourth quarter.
The Zone’s unemployment rate averaged 5.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, down appreciably from the previous quarter (6.0 percent). The Little Rock MSA’s unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in six years (5.4 percent).
Most housing activity in the Little Rock Zone was stronger in the fourth quarter as compared with the previous quarter, as home prices and single-family building permits rose in most areas. However, the Little Rock MSA was a notable exception, posting declines in both sales and permits.
Automotive loan delinquency rates rose sharply in Arkansas during the fourth quarter of 2014, but remained modestly below the national average of 3.3 percent.
Loan growth in the first half of 2015 is expected to outpace the growth seen over the first half of 2014, according to a survey of Arkansas bankers.
Arkansas cropland values in 2014 increased for the third consecutive year.
View the entire Little Rock Zone report at http://research.stlouisfed.org/regecon/burgundybooks/15/03/BB0315LR.pdf.
The next Burgundy Books will be released June 23, 2015.