The Fort Smith regional economy posted improved numbers again in July, according to the report released Aug. 29 by the Center for Business Research and Economic Development (CBRED) at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.
The July Monthly Economic Indicators Index report reveals an area economy that indicates more good news than bad, according to Dr. Kermit Kuehn of Fort Smith, CBRED director. The overall Economic Activity Index for June (the latest available) of 96.5 was up from the 95.9 of a year ago.
According to the report, total non-farm employment for the Fort Smith MSA of 117,400 people employed reflected 2,900 more jobs in the five-county Fort Smith Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) than what was reported in July a year ago. The improvement was consistent with the nonseasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for the region for July which was 7.6 percent, eight-tenths of a percent lower than a year ago.
"Overall, this was another decent month for jobs in the region, and this was matched by a decline in the unemployment rate year-over-year as well," Kuehn said, based on the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
July home sales for the MSA rose a whopping 43 percent from a year ago, continuing the turnaround in recent months from the rather dull performance for much of the first part of 2013. The number of units sold in July exceeded 200 units, with the average price of homes slightly above a year ago at $132,160 per unit.
Kevin King, owner of Weichert/King Realty Group in Fort Smith, indicated that we "still have more supply than demand, but we saw a marked improvement in July." King noted that higher interest rates are pushing some buyers to act, but the market remains a buyer’s market for the most part.
Residential construction activity declined again in July, following the significant drop in new permits observed in last month’s report. The report revealed that 23 residential construction permits were pulled for the month, well below the 78 units of a year ago. However, the number of permits for 2013 is still up nearly 23 percent over 2012.
Retail sales came in lower in June (the latest data available) relative to a year ago, continuing the weaker pattern that has been in place for much of 2013. Retail sales for the MSA were down 1.5 percent from a year ago. Year-to-date sales are down 1 percent so far this year.
"Retail sales have been consistently soft this year," Kuehn said, "suggesting that consumers are keeping a tighter rein on their pocketbooks."
New and used auto sales rose by 12.6 percent over July 2012, led again by new car sales. Kuehn noted that new-car unit sales were over 15 percent higher than the previous five-year average, while used-car unit sales were down nearly 4 percent.
Airport traffic numbers came in higher in July, the second month in a row of year-over-year improvement. Passenger traffic for the month was up less than 1 percent, but traffic for the year remains 3.5 percent below a year ago at this time.
The report is sponsored by Arvest Bank. For more information on the center, go to www.uafs.edu/cob/cbred, call 479-788-7938 or email CBRED@uafs.edu.