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Is Utah rebound in sight?

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Business conditions in Utah dipped again in December and likely will continue to weaken throughout the first quarter of 2002, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The monthly Business Conditions Survey of purchasing managers and business leaders in Utah showed a slight decline from November's numbers, from 48.9 to 46.2.

The index ranges from 0 to 100, with an index number greater than 50 indicating expansionary economic conditions in the months ahead.

December marked the sixth consecutive month below 50 for Utah, said Ernie Goss, an economics professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. And, Goss said, Utahns probably should not expect a significant economic rebound until after the first quarter of 2002.

Though job losses since the beginning of the recession have totaled only 2,700, Goss said he expects unemployment to rise during the first quarter. But unlike neighboring Colorado, Goss said, "Utah has not experienced significant economic pullbacks outside of manufacturing."

Goss' regional survey covers Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. The three-state area also reported a continuing downward trend.

"The Mountain States region is firmly in a recession, with the worst of the downturn occurring since Sept. 11," Goss wrote. "The economic pullback, which began in manufacturing, has now spread to other sectors, particularly the transportation industry."

Job losses throughout the region are expected to continue during the first quarter of 2002, but Goss said the economic picture is not entirely bleak.

"It is clear that lower interest rates, bargain energy prices and a successful war effort are having positive impacts on the economic outlook of survey participants," he wrote.

A national report also released Wednesday showed that U.S. manufacturing activity decreased for the 17th consecutive month in December, though not as much as expected, raising the prospect that the struggling sector is poised for a rebound.

The Institute for Supply Management, formerly known as the National Association of Purchasing Management, said its index of business activity rose to 48.2 in December from 44.5 in November. Analysts had been expecting a reading of 46.

"While the manufacturing sector continues to decline, the rate of decline has slowed very quickly, giving some hope that recovery may come faster than is generally found in a major downturn," said Norbert J. Ore, who oversees the monthly national survey.

Contributing: The Associated Press

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com