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April marked a record-breaking drop in economic confidence for the second month in a row among rural bank CEOs surveyed for Creighton University's Rural Mainstreet Index. The index is a survey of bankers in about 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300 in 10 states where agriculture and energy are critical to the economy: Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
The overall index, a measure of how bankers see their local economy doing for the next six months, was at 12.1 in mid-April, the lowest it's been since the survey began in 2006, Creighton economist Ernie Goss reports. Anything below 50 is growth-negative. The index was a lukewarm 51.6 in mid-February, buoyed by the freshly signed Phase I trade deal with China, but by mid-March it was at 35.5, a then-record drop of 16.1 points. The slide from March to April was even larger, 23.4 points. One banker said low commodity prices and the coronavirus pandemic were his major concerns.
More than nine in 10 rural bankers surveyed said they expect the pandemic to push their community into a recession. That's a significant jump from March, when six in 10 held that opinion. About 94 percent of bankers surveyed said they had seen a drop in client or customer visits over the past two weeks because of the pandemic, and nearly a third said fewer people were able to make loan payments on time during that same period, Goss reports.
When asked to assess the Paycheck Protection Plan, 45.5% said it was too confusing for borrowers to navigate, though some said they had had a positive experience with the program, Goss reports.
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