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Sunny outlook for Midwest economy

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- The economy will likely continue growing slowly in nine Midwestern and Plains states in the months ahead, according to a new survey of business leaders released Thursday.

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The economy will likely continue growing slowly in nine Midwestern and Plains states in the months ahead, according to a new survey of business leaders released Thursday.

The monthly survey’s overall index remained at a weak level even though it improved to 53.2 in December from November’s 51.2. Any score above 50 suggests growth.

“The resolution of the federal budget impasse and improvements in the nation’s housing sector boosted supply managers’ business outlook for the month,” Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said.

The confidence index for the region jumped to 66.5 in December from November’s 57.2, suggesting managers are quite optimistic about the next six months.

The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

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After moving below growth neutral in November 2012, South Dakota’s index been above growth neutral each month. The overall index rose slightly last month, to 53.2 from November’s 52.3. Components of the index were new orders at 55.3, production or sales at 54.2, delivery lead time at 52.3, inventories at 52.0 and employment at 52.1.

“Upturns in manufacturing sales continue to bolster job growth and increases in the hours worked for manufacturing sector,” Goss said. “Economic growth for the first half of 2014 will be healthy, according to recent surveys of supply managers in the state,” he said.

The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth in that factor, while a score below that suggests decline.

Goss, who oversees the survey, said businesses tied to agriculture continue to report softer economic conditions, but transportation firms partially offset that weakness with strong job growth.

The overall employment index fell to 48.7 in December from November’s 51.2.

Business managers remain concerned that inflation could be a problem in 2014. In December, the inflation index increased to 63.6 from 61.6 in November. The inventory index climbed to 51.3 in December from November’s 48.1. Goss said that’s another optimistic signal. The other components of the December index were: Export index declined to 55.6 in December from November’s 56.4. Import index slipped to 47.2 from November’s 53.5. New orders improved slightly to 57.4, up from 57.2 in November. Production or sales increase to 56.8 from November’s 53.3. And delivery lead time grew to 52 in December, up from 50.7.

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