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Mississippi economic index shows first rise since fall

Components of the Mississippi Leading Index, or MLI, collectively rose 0.6 percent in February, the first increase since October, state economists report.

The value of the index increased 3.9 percent from the previous February, according to the April issue of Mississippi’s Business, an economic monitoring newsletter published by the University Research Center, an arm of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.

Nationally, economists reported a 2.2 percent increase in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product for the fourth quarter of last year. With a stronger dollar and weaker demand for U.S. products internationally, most economists expect a weaker first quarter for the GDP, said Corey Miller, University Research Center economic analyst and author of the newsletter.

Miller said many economists expect stronger growth nationally later in the year, providing “a slightly higher change in real U.S. GDP for all of 2015.”

Mississippi’s economy appears to have weathered the recent downturn in U.S. manufacturing “rather well,” as this month’s data suggests, Miller reported in the April newsletter.

“Employment growth remains languid but not dissimilar from the most recent U.S. jobs report,” he said.

For February, three of the seven components of the MLI increased.

On the plus side, the Mississippi Manufacturing Employment Intensity Index rose 1.7 percent. This followed three months of declines, Miller said.

Despite the ump in the manufacturing index, the value of average weekly hours of production employment remains near its lowest level in four years, according to Miller.

Also on the plus side, the value of Mississippi income tax withholdings rose 1.7 percent in February – the largest since October and only the second gain in the last four months, Miller said.

“The average monthly value of withholdings over the last six months is 3.9 percent higher than for the previous six months,” he reported.

The value of building permits in February continued a climb that started four months previous, increasing 4.1 percent over January’s totals. The number of units for which permits were issued also rose for the third consecutive months, inching up by 2.9 percent and showing an increase of 4.6 percent over the previous February.

Putting downward pressure on the February MLI were consumer expectations, initial jobless claims and U.S. retail sales.

The University of Michigan Index of Consumer Expectations slipped 0.4 percent in February. However, the February value of the index remained 23.6 percent higher than in the same month a year ago.

Seasonally adjusted initial unemployed claims in Mississippi climbed 4 percent in February, though the dollar value of total claims was 6.6 percent below the previous year.

Nationally7, February retail sales fell 0.6 percent from the previous month but remained 1.7 percent higher than a year ago.

“Lower automobile sales drove most of the decline; however, sales excluding automobiles also fell 0.1 percent,” Miller reported, and added that bad weather in February most likely contributed to the drop in sales.

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