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Utah business index slips

But a report says better times ahead for the state

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While the U.S. manufacturing sector again reported faster-than-expected growth in July, Utah's businesses appeared to lag behind.

But a report released Monday said better times are ahead for the Beehive State.

The Mountain States Business Conditions Index, a monthly survey of supply managers and business leaders in the Western states of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, found Utah's reading again slightly lower, at 56.8, compared to June's 57 and May's 59.1.

The index ranges from zero to 100, with a figure greater than 50 indicating a growing economy over the next three to six months.

Ernie Goss, an economics professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and director of the Creighton Economic Forecasting Group, said in a prepared statement that while Utah's July survey results were down, they again "remained in a range pointing to healthy economic growth in the months ahead.

"Utah high-tech firms, including computer and electronic component manufacturers, reported solid economic advances over June activity," Goss wrote. "Utah has added just over 25,000 jobs thus far for 2005. Based on our survey, I expect the state to gain another 22,000 for the rest of 2005, pushing overall job growth for 2005 to 4 percent. This will be the best showing for the Utah labor market since 1996."

Utah's index for new orders measured 72.0, with production at 42.9, delivery-speed at 50.1, inventories at 50.6, and employment at 59.3

Colorado's business conditions continued to climb, reaching 72.9 in July, up from June's 72.4 and May's 68.8. Wyoming rebounded from a slight decline in June, posting a chart-topping 84.4 in July, up significantly from June's 77.6.

"Despite high oil prices and rising interest rates, the regional (business) confidence index rose in July to 78.3 from June's 75.0," Goss wrote. "Opening the Canadian border to the importation of live cattle had a positive impact on the confidence of beef processors in the region."

The July employment index for the region rose sharply to 71.7 from June's already brisk 65.0 and May's 64.3.

"Surveys over the past several months and government data indicate that the region is growing jobs at a pace not experienced since before the 2001 recession," Goss said.

Nationally, strong sales in the auto industry helped propel results as the Institute for Supply Management reported its manufacturing index rose to 56.6 last month, up from 53.8 in June and greater than the 54.1 that analysts were expecting.

As with the Creighton study, a reading of 50 or above in the index means the manufacturing sector is expanding. A figure below 50 represents a contraction.

The new orders index rose to 60.6 in July from 57.2 in June, while the production index surged to 61.2 from 55.6 a month earlier.

Lower prices also helped fuel the rise in the overall index. The price index decreased to 48.5 in July from 50.5 in June. The dip marked an end to 40 consecutive months of higher prices.

"The prices index apparently reached the end of its run in June, as the July index indicates that pricing power, at least for the short term, is now once again favoring buyers" Norbert J. Ore, chair of ISM's Manufacturing Business Survey committee, said in a release.

Still, that doesn't necessarily indicate prices are on a downward trend.

"Month to month, I think we will see volatility given energy prices," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com, a consulting firm.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said Monday that builders trimmed spending on construction projects around the country in June, marking the fourth consecutive monthly cutback. Analysts had expected a rise of 0.5 percent.

Spending on all construction projects dipped by 0.3 percent in June from the previous month. Even with the decline, though, the value of all projects was still at a healthy level of $1.1 trillion, at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate.

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com