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Small-town Bankers Are Still Hopeful about US Economy

This photo taken Monday, July 1, 2019 shows new construction underway at Carraway Village, a mixed-use community in Chapel Hill, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Small-town Bankers Are Still Hopeful about US Economy
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American financial experts may be worried about trade wars, tariffs and talk of a recession, but ask a small-town banker and economic conditions are pretty good.

Across the United States, people are building and buying homes. Small businesses are borrowing money to expand. Most families are earning and spending money.

Even farmers are doing relatively well, despite the country’s trade battle with China. U.S. farm prices have changed little over the past year.

So, it is unusual that interest rates on U.S. government bonds are near historic lows. Talk of a possible recession has caused stock prices to drop with each trade threat from the Trump administration.

Even with falling stock prices, and the World Trade Organization predicting slowing economic growth, Main Street America seems happy.

Federal Reserve officials have “continually made the point that the economy is on a strong footing. Employment is strong,” said Michael Stevens of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS). His group represents the local regulators who oversee the 5,500 U.S. banks with less than $10 billion. Most have less than $250 million.

“When you get down to that local level – I see consistency” with the Fed’s prediction of a continued expansion, Stevens told the Reuters news agency.

This year the CSBS released a new measure of economic health. The new index is based on opinions of more than 500 community bankers from across the country. The first results, released in June, showed “an overall positive outlook.” Many of those questioned said they expect continued or improved business conditions and profit.

Just recently, the CSBS released a second reading of the index, and it had similar findings.

Tom Sellers is the president of Alliance Bank in Sulphur Springs, Texas, outside Dallas. As a growing number of people are moving to Texas, “we see the positive - people moving out to our part of the state, building homes,” he said.

Even with the trade war and other risks, “I am still pretty optimistic about where we are,” Sellers said.

This July 1, 2019, photo shows a construction worker atop a new building in Hillsborough, N.C. On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Commerce Department reports on U.S. construction spending in August. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
This July 1, 2019, photo shows a construction worker atop a new building in Hillsborough, N.C. On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Commerce Department reports on U.S. construction spending in August. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Questions for the Fed

The survey results explain the problem faced by the Federal Reserve. It is trying to understand whether strong consumer spending will continue, or if it will end soon. The Fed is worried that a slowdown in manufacturing and international trade will start to affect U.S. employment and wage growth.

The risks seem worrisome. The world’s main economies have turned away from cooperation and toward conflict. Central bankers admit they may not be much of a help in the future.

Bankers in some parts of the country are not quite as optimistic.

“All signs for us are pointing to a recession,” said Kish Bank president Gregory Hayes. He noted that small business lending in his part of rural Pennsylvania fell in May and has yet to recover.

Small businesses just stopped asking for loans, Hayes explained. It was in May that President Donald Trump threatened to raise tariffs on Mexico because of a dispute over immigration.

Around the country, yearly growth in bank lending for industry and business have fallen by about 50 percent since April.

But the U.S. economy is still supported by services and consumer spending. The most optimistic bankers may say that many parts of the country are protected from the trade war debate.

After all, all those people moving to Texas will need a house, a car, food and all the other services that follow a growth in population.

The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

tariffs – n. a tax on goods coming into or leaving a country

despiteprep. without being affected by

bond – n. a financial instrument offering a fixed rate of interest

Federal Reserve – n. the name for the U.S. central bank

regulatorn. someone who governs, directs or supervises

consistency – n. the quality or fact of having parts that agree with each other

positiveadj. approving; expressed clearly

optimistic – adj. expecting good things to happen

consumer – n. a person who buys goods and services