OMAHA — Results from a monthly survey of business supply managers released Wednesday suggest economic conditions continue to improve in nine Midwest and Plains states, and that confidence in the regional economy is at its highest level in six years.

South Dakota led the nine states in its economic index.

The Mid-America Business Conditions Index report said the overall economic index for the region rose to 54.7 in January from 53.1 in December and 46.5 in November. It's the highest figure since February 2015.

"This is the third consecutive month the index has increased, and (it) points to an improving regional manufacturing economy," said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey. "I expect this to generate even healthier growth for both manufacturing and nonmanufacturing for the first half of 2017."

The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth, while a score below indicates decline.

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

Looking ahead six months, economic optimism rose to 69.5 in January from 63.3 in December. It's the highest confidence reading recorded in six years, Goss said.

The January employment index soared to its highest level since August 2014, hitting 57.0, compared with December's 50.9. Goss said the key to regional job growth in the first half of 2017 will be improvements in agriculture and energy commodity prices.

The prices-paid index jumped to 74.2 from 70.4 in December, reflecting rising inflationary pressures at the wholesale level.

"This is the highest wholesale inflation gauge that we have recorded since April 2014," Goss said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its consumer price index on Feb. 15. Goss said if the overall reading continues to move higher, he expects the Federal Reserve to increase short-term interest rates in the first quarter of this year.

The Institute for Supply Management, formerly the Purchasing Management Association, began formally surveying its membership in 1931 to gauge business conditions.

The Creighton Economic Forecasting Group uses the same methodology as the national survey to consult supply managers and business leaders. Creighton University economics professor Ernie Goss oversees the report.

The overall index ranges between 0 and 100. Growth neutral is 50, and a figure greater than 50 indicates an expanding economy over the next three to six months.

South Dakota's overall index rose to 57.2 from 56.5 in December.

Here are the state-by-state results for January:

South Dakota: South Dakota's overall index rose to 57.2 from 56.5 in December. Index components were new orders at 56.9, production or sales at 57.0, delivery lead time at 53.6, inventories at 58.8 and employment at 59.7. South Dakota's manufacturing sector, especially nondurable-goods producers, is expanding at a solid pace even as heavy manufacturers reduce hiring, Goss said.

 

Arkansas: Arkansas' overall index for January rose to 55.3 from December's 53.7. Components of the index were new orders at 56.2, production or sales at 56.2, delivery lead time at 53.0, inventories at 53.3, and employment at 57.8. "Expansions among nondurable-goods producers more than offset continuing weak conditions reported by durable-goods manufacturers in the state," Goss said.

Iowa: The overall index for Iowa inched up to 51.8 in January from 51.7 in December. Components were new orders at 55.1, production or sales at 55.1, delivery lead time at 51.8, employment at 54.2, and inventories at 42.8. "Iowa durable-goods manufacturers, including metal producers and agriculture equipment manufacturers, continue to shed jobs. On the other hand, nondurable-goods producers are adding jobs, but at a slow pace," he said.

Kansas: The Kansas overall index rose to 53.2 last month from 51.1 in December. Index components were new orders at 55.5, production or sales at 55.9, delivery lead time at 52.3, employment at 55.7 and inventories at 47.0. "Durable-goods manufacturers in the state, including machinery producers, are experiencing pullbacks in the economic activity. On the other hand, nondurable-goods producers, including food processors, are expanding business activity," Goss said.

Minnesota: The overall index for Minnesota hit 54.7 last month, compared with 52.3 in December. Components of the index were new orders at 55.4, production or sales at 57.1, delivery lead time at 52.8, inventories at 51.5 and employment at 57.2. "Minnesota durable-goods manufacturers, including metal producers and agriculture equipment manufacturers, continue to shed jobs," Goss said. On the other hand, nondurable-goods producers, including food processors, are adding jobs at a solid pace.

Missouri: January's overall index dropped to 53.7 last month in Missouri from 57.1 in December. Components of the index were new orders at 54.9, production or sales at 55.2, delivery lead time at 51.6, inventories at 53.4 and employment at 53.8. "Missouri's durable-goods manufacturers, including machinery producers, are experiencing pullbacks in the economic activity. On the other hand, nondurable-goods producers, including food processors, are expanding business activity," said Goss.

Nebraska: The January overall index for Nebraska rose to 56.9 in January from 55.3 in December. Components of the index were new orders at 56.5, production or sales at 57.1, delivery lead time at 53.6, inventories at 58.1 and employment at 53.6. "Both durable- and nondurable-goods manufacturers expanded business activity in the state but at a slow pace for the month. Nebraska food processors, on the other hand, advanced at a healthy pace," he said.

North Dakota: North Dakota's overall index fell to 49.7 from 51.0 in December. Components were new orders at 54.7, production or sales at 54.1, delivery lead time at 51.1, employment at 52.1 and inventories at 36.7. "North Dakota's durable-goods manufacturers, including machinery producers, are experiencing pullbacks in the economic activity. On the other hand, nondurable-goods producers, including food processors, are expanding business activity, but at a slow pace," Goss said.

Oklahoma: The state's overall index increased to 52.3 last month from 48.8 in December. Components were new orders at 55.5, production or sales at 51.4, delivery lead time at 52.2, inventories at 46.7 and employment at 55.6, "Oklahoma's durable-goods manufacturers, especially metal producers, are shedding jobs and business activity. On the other hand, nondurable-goods manufacturers, including food processors, continue to expand business activity," he said.

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