The Fort Smith regional economy continued to send a mixed message in January, according to the report released March 18 by the Center for Business Research and Economic Development at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.
The Monthly Economic Indicators Index report for January revealed another lackluster performance for the area economy to start the new year. However, there were pockets within the economy that continued to improve.
The latest numbers indicate that residential construction activity continued to show year-over-year improvements in January, as did auto sales and overall jobs numbers. However, retail sales, home sales and airport traffic counts were all lower again this month relative to a year ago.
Retail sales were down 4.4 percent in December, year-over-year.
CBRED director Dr. Kermit Kuehn of Fort Smith said that retail sales had been showing signs of weakness in recent months with year-over-year sales dropping three of the last four months. Sales for 2012 ended essentially unchanged from 2011 for the five-county Fort Smith Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) after a strong start in the first half of the year.
“While I can’t say I was particularly surprised by the December retail sales number, I had hoped for a stronger finish to close out 2012,” Kuehn said.
The report revealed that residential construction permit activity registered significant gains over last year with 39 permits pulled in January, up nearly 22 percent from a year ago. However, home sales for the MSA were down nearly two percent. The average price of homes sold in January was $108,900, nearly $20,000 less than the average for January 2012.
According to the report, the overall non-farm employment for the Fort Smith MSA of 115,700 people employed reflected 200 more jobs in the MSA than what was reported in January a year ago.
“Annual revisions just completed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) made for some significant changes in headcounts in key sectors such as manufacturing and construction,” Kuehn said.
He went on to note that the BLS revision resulted in changes in MSA data going back into 2011. As a result it is more difficult to discern the actual changes in employment in the region for the period.