Optimism Improves among District Business Contacts

June 23, 2016
burgundy books

According to the latest issue of the Burgundy Books, optimism about local economic conditions in 2016 rebounded from the previous report. Specifically:

  • In the Little Rock Zone, while the near-term outlook improved slightly, 69 percent of business contacts expect conditions to be about the same in 2016 as in the previous year.
  • The Louisville Zone showed an increase in optimism, as a larger percentage of respondents were optimistic about 2016 compared with the previous report.
  • Optimism from Memphis Zone business contacts rebounded sharply from three months earlier.
  • The percentage of St. Louis Zone business contacts expecting an improving outlook for 2016 went up from the previous report. The percentage expecting a worsening outlook declined.


Labor market conditions remained vibrant in most areas of the Little Rock Zone. The Zone’s unemployment rate was 4.1 percent in the first quarter, and the Fayetteville metropolitan statistical area (MSA) had an unemployment rate of 2.9 percent in the first quarter, its lowest in 15 years.

Payroll employment growth was brisk in most areas of the Louisville Zone in the first quarter. Still, the unemployment rate rose from 4.7 percent to 5.1 percent. The report noted: “Given the recent acceleration in labor force growth, this development probably reflects increased re-entry into the labor market by job seekers.”

The Memphis Zone’s unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent in the first quarter. This is a decrease of more than 1 percentage point over the previous quarter and the lowest rate since 2001.

The St. Louis Zone’s unemployment rate stayed at 5 percent in the first quarter. However, three of the Zone’s MSAs—Columbia, Jefferson City and Springfield—had unemployment rates under 4 percent.


Single-family building permits were up from year-ago levels in four of the six Little Rock Zone MSAs. Home prices remained relatively flat across most MSAs.

Residential real estate activity strengthened in the Louisville Zone. The year-over-year growth rates in Louisville house prices and year-to-date home sales both accelerated. House prices also continued to increase in two of the other three major MSAs.

House prices continued to increase across the major Memphis Zone MSAs. However, growth remained below the U.S. rate of 6 percent. The year-over-year change in home sales in the Memphis MSA grew to 9.6 percent, the first time it has exceeded the national rate since mid-2014.

The residential housing market continued to strengthen in the St. Louis Zone. Year-to-date home sales in the St. Louis MSA exceeded the nation’s growth rate for the sixth consecutive quarter.

Household Finances

Growth of household credit card balances in the Little Rock Zone accelerated modestly in the first quarter compared with three months earlier. Credit card and automotive loan delinquency rates edged higher.

Mortgage, credit card and automotive loan delinquency rates in the Louisville Zone remained low in the first quarter. Mortgage debt growth in the Zone slowed compared with the previous quarter, but remained above the national average for growth.

Growth of per capita auto loan and credit card debt balances in the Memphis Zone continued to outpace the nation’s rate in the first quarter. Mortgage debt balances in Arkansas fell for the second straight quarter.

Similar to the Memphis Zone, growth of per capita auto loan balances in the St. Louis Zone exceeded the nation’s increase in the first quarter. Auto loan delinquency rates, however, were lower than the national average.

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This blog offers relevant commentary, analysis, research and data from our economists and other St. Louis Fed experts. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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