The Fort Smith regional economy continues to turn in a mixed performance, based on the report released Aug. 1 by the Center for Business Research and Economic Development at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.
The Monthly Economic Indicators Index report indicates that the latest data on retail and auto sales and residential construction improved over last year at this time, while jobs numbers, home sales, and airport traffic were weaker.
According to the latest data, May retail sales were the highlight, up 6.8 percent over last year and up nearly five percent year-to-date. CBRED director Dr. Kermit Kuehn said auto sales were on the plus side as well, eking out a .6 percent improvement over June 2011. Year-to-date sales of autos are slightly lower than 2011, down less than one percent for the year. Total new and used unit sales were 7.7 percent lower in June relative to the previous five-year average.
The June jobs picture didn’t offer much support to any hopes of a long-term turnaround in the regional economy. According to the report, the economy lost 400 non-farm jobs last month relative to June 2011. Somewhat ironically, manufacturing was the only sector to record an improvement in headcount for June, up 1.5 percent over last year.
“Consumer buying behavior has persisted thus far, likely spurred on by steep and widespread discounting in the retail sector,” Kuehn said of the June report. “So, in spite of the downward pressure on the economy due to the weak job market, the economy continues to trudge along.”
The report reveals that residential construction permit activity was higher for the month, up 46.3 percent in June, but year-to-date numbers continue to run about 14 percent below last year. Home sales were off slightly in June, dropping 4.4 percent from last year. Home sales are up 4.3 percent year-to-date.
Airport passenger traffic counts were off noticeably in June, recording an 8.2 percent decline from June 2011. Year-to-date numbers continue to run above last year, up 8.3 percent.
“This summer continues on script with a year ago -- hot weather matched with an uncertain economy,” Kuehn said. “The only thing missing thus far is a meltdown in the global economy. There’s still time for that ingredient to really mess things up.”