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Utah business chiefs still optimistic

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The numbers may be down a bit, but Utah business leaders remain optimistic that the state's economy is poised for growth, according to a monthly survey.

The Mountain States Business Conditions Index for Utah, based on a poll of the state's supply managers and business leaders, dropped to 50.2 in December from November's 55.6. But despite the drop, the overall number did manage to stay above 50 for the fourth consecutive month.

"While Utah lost approximately 12,000 jobs in 2002, the rate of job loss declined in the second half of the year," said Ernie Goss, an economics professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., who compiles the monthly index.

"Based on recent surveys, I expect the state to experience job gains in the first half of 2003. While durable goods manufacturing firms reported job losses for December, non-durable goods manufacturing firms and service firms reported employment increases."

The index ranges from 0 to 100, with a number greater than 50 indicating expansionary economic conditions. The survey uses the same methodology as the Institute for Supply Management, which on Thursday reported a surprisingly strong 54.7 national index for December.

The overall index for the three Mountain States of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming declined to 52.6 in December from November's 56.9.

Goss said the Mountain States lost almost 37,000 jobs last year, but December's employment index of 53.8 for the region points to positive job growth for the first half of 2003.

"Solid December readings for new orders of 57.7, and production of 51.9, offset a much weaker inventory index of 46.2," he said in a prepared statement.

"I expect declines in the value of the dollar and higher energy prices to show up in somewhat higher prices in the first half of 2003. Even with these upward pressures on prices, I expect the 2003 inflation rate to be roughly 2.5 percent, or still in acceptable territory."

Among the other states in the survey, Colorado's overall index for December dropped to 48.8 from November's 52.7, and Wyoming's figure fell from 64.3 in November to 59.1 last month.

In Utah, December readings for components of the overall index were 58.3 for new orders, 50 for production, 45.8 for inventories and 50 for employment.

E-MAIL: gkratz@desnews.com