Bankers survey shows gains in rural economy of 10 states

OMAHA, Neb. — The rural economy in parts of 10 Plains and Western states continues to grow, but rural bank CEOs say their biggest fears for the 2021 economy are excessive inflation and higher long-term interest rates, according to a new monthly survey of bankers.

The overall index of the Rural Mainstreet Survey improved to 52.0 in January from December’s 51.6 — the highest reading since before the onset last year of the coronavirus pandemic.

Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy, while a score below 50 suggests a shrinking economy.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, reiterated that improvements in agriculture commodity prices, federal farm support payments and the Federal Reserve’s record low short-term interest rates have underpinned the region’s economy. But rural bankers continue to worry that fewer farmers taking out loans will hurt their institutions.

“Approximately 44% of bank CEOs expect low loan demand to be the greatest issue facing their banks for 2021,” Goss said. “This is up from 7% that recorded this as a top concern last year at this time.”

Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.