Oregon economic indicators on the rise

The University of Oregon Index of Economic Indicators, released Monday, rose 0.2 percent to 87.2, the second consecutive monthly increase for the state.

The economic progress didn't necessarily show up in Jackson and Josephine counties, however.

"Southern Oregon and Central Oregon — areas disproportionately dependent on housing — are having a harder time recovering as the economy regains speed," said Tim Duy, director of the Oregon Economic Forum. The forum releases the monthly index, which is based on a 1997 benchmark equaling 100.

"There has been some stabilization in the number of building permits, so with the ups and downs there is a limit to the downside. In some cases, housing has bottomed; in some cases it is firming."

The UO Index was revised to reflect improved estimates of payrolls in the employment services sector — largely temporary help firms. Even so, compared to six months ago, more than half the index components declined while the UO Index fell at an annual rate of 5.9 percent.

Anecdotal information suggests wood products activity has stabilized, but in comparison, Duy said, it pales to four or five years ago.

"Firms that have managed to survive are obviously positioned to take more market share from those that didn't as the economy accelerates," the UO economist said. "There are so many firms that do customized products from plywood to milled lumber. You see the same thing in a lot of sectors, but it is always hard when you get down to (company) level anecdotes and see what's going in the aggregate."

The report was later than usual because of a delayed weight-distance tax revenues release. Weight-distance taxes — a measure of trucking activity — increased in October, but that increase as yet does not appear to have worked its way through to revenues collected. That is primarily because of payment timing issues with carrier payment lagging. Trucking activity edged down moderately during the month, as did consumer confidence.

Both initial unemployment claims and employment services payrolls — largely temporary hiring — were largely unchanged. The overall trends in the indicators — elevated initial claims and stagnating employment services payrolls — generally suggest weak hiring activity, Duy said.

He said three months of accelerated job growth in the private sector is a welcome trend.

"The bulk of the gains have been within the education and retail trade sectors," he said. "Which could reflect unusual seasonal hiring patterns this year and thus are not reflective of the underlying trend."

<i>— Greg Stiles</i>

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