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Real estate driving area’s economy

Residential real estate led the way in the Fort Smith regional economy in April, according to the report released May 30 by the Center for Business Research and Economic Development (CBRED) at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.

The April Monthly Economic Indicators Index report offered more good news than bad in the latest report on the area economy. The overall Economic Activity Index for March of 95.3 was up slightly from a year ago.

The latest residential construction permit numbers surged in April, coming in at 142 permits. This was well above the most recent five-year average of 51 permits and well above the 32 permits pulled in April 2012.

Dr. Kermit Kuehn of Fort Smith, CBRED director, noted that the large number of permits was largely comprised of the 116 multi-family unit permits issued last month, well above what is typical on a month-to-month basis.

“Construction permit numbers blew the doors off this month,” Kuehn said. “Along with that, we even had a nice pop in home sales last month.”

April home sales for the five-county Fort Smith Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) were up 14.1 percent from a year ago, enough to pull year-to-date unit sales into the positive relative to 2012. The average price of homes sold in April was noticeably lower than a year ago at $106,140 per unit.

It was another slow month for retail sales in March with sales in the MSA coming in 2.3 percent below a year ago. After a brief reprieve last month when year-over-year sales rose, retail sales turned negative again in March. Retail sales for 2013 are down just under one percent from a year ago at this time.

“Retail sales went back to their old ways in this latest report,” Kuehn said, “not a particularly encouraging sign from a consumption perspective.”

New and used auto sales returned to the plus-side of the ledger in April with sales up over 9 percent from last year. Kuehn noted that unit sales of new cars were over 10 percent higher than the previous five-year average, while used car sales were up less than one percent for the period.

According to the report, total non-farm employment for the Fort Smith MSA of 117,400 people employed reflected 500 more jobs in the MSA than what was reported in April a year ago. The nonseasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for the Fort Smith MSA for April was 7.2 percent, one-tenth of one percent higher than a year ago.

Kuehn stated out that about 1,000 fewer people were working this month than was recorded a year ago at this time.

The report indicates that trade, transportation and utilities (+1,000), education and health services (+500), and professional and business services (+200) sectors gained the most jobs relative to a year ago, while manufacturing (-500) and mining, logging and construction (-500) lost the most.

Airport passenger traffic was higher in April, coming in 1.5 percent above 2012. Passenger traffic is down over 5 percent year-to-date relative to last year at this time.

The report is sponsored by Arvest Bank. For more information on the center, go to www.uafs.edu/cob/cbred, call 479-788-7938 or email CBRED@uafs.edu.

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