For the third straight month, two reports on the state's economy went in a different direction.

The latest monthly leading economic indicator from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln surged in January, which is a good sign for the state's economy in the first half of the year.

The indicator, a composite of economic factors that predict economic growth six months into the future, rose by 1.97 percent last month. It had declined the previous two months.

“The rapid increase in the indicator during January is a positive sign for Nebraska economic growth,” said economist Eric Thompson, director of the Bureau of Business Research at the university.

Thompson said the reading means the state's economy should improve by mid-2017.

Businesses maintained a positive outlook during January, with respondents to the January Survey of Nebraska Business anticipating an increase in both sales and employment over the next six months.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance also fell sharply during January. The drop in initial claims, however, simply reversed a sharp increase during December.

The value of the U.S. dollar was little changed during January.

“A stable U.S. dollar is good news for Nebraska exporters, especially after rapid increases in the dollar during the second half of 2016,” Thompson said.

The Rural Mainstreet Index produced by Creighton University economist Ernie Goss turned negative for Nebraska after two months of increases.

Nebraska's index for February dropped below to 47.1, down from 52.6 in January. Anything below 50 is considered to be growth-negative.

Goss said weak farm commodity prices continue to constrain the rural economies in the states covered by the index, but "the negatives are getting less negative."



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