Many business contacts in the Eighth Federal Reserve District expressed optimism regarding the outlook for local economic conditions in 2015, according to the St. Louis Fed’s most recent Burgundy Books:
In the St. Louis Zone, the unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, a decline of around 0.7 percentage points. The St. Louis metropolitan statistical area (MSA) was the only MSA in the Zone with an unemployment rate higher than the national average.
The unemployment rate in the Little Rock Zone averaged 5.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, down from 6 percent the previous quarter. Overall, payroll employment grew in all MSAs in the Zone.
The Louisville Zone’s unemployment rate averaged 5.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. Most MSAs in the Zone experienced significant declines in their unemployment rates during the quarter.
The unemployment rate in the Memphis Zone averaged 8.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, down from 8.5 percent the previous quarter. For 2014, the unemployment rate declined 1.3 percentage points in the Memphis and Jackson, Tenn., MSAs and 1.6 percentage points in the Jonesboro, Ark., MSA.
New and existing home sales in the St. Louis MSA were down 2 percent in 2014 compared with 2013. However, December sales were up 29 percent from one year ago.
The Little Rock MSA experienced 1.7 percent fewer home sales in 2014 compared with 2013, but December home sales increased more than 1 percent from one year prior.
Residential real estate conditions were mixed in the Louisville Zone in the fourth quarter, though the industrial real estate market was strong, as asking rents increased 8.1 percent and vacancy rates decreased 9.5 percent from the same time the previous year.
Residential housing market conditions were mixed in the fourth quarter in the Memphis MSA. Year-over-year growth in home prices dropped significantly from the previous quarter.
Households in the St. Louis Zone reduced their mortgage balances and increased their credit and auto debt holdings in the fourth quarter of 2014. Auto debt balances are now nearly 10 percent above their pre-recession peak.
Personal income per capita grew by 2.6 percent in Arkansas in the third quarter of 2014, a similar rate of growth to what was experienced in the previous quarter.
Growth of per capita personal income accelerated in Indiana and Kentucky in the third quarter, and inflation slowed in the fourth quarter due largely to low gas prices. Delinquency rates for mortgage, credit card and auto debt were unchanged in the fourth quarter across the Louisville Zone.
Personal income growth per capita decelerated in Mississippi in the third quarter, while the rate of growth was essentially unchanged in Arkansas and Tennessee. In Arkansas and Tennessee, low inflation possibly indicates that real income grew at a faster pace in the latter months of 2014.