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Consumer Confidence

The Zions Bank Utah Consumer Attitude Index increased 4.1 points to 113.4 in January. The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index increased 9.8 points to 102.9 in the same period.

Housing Market

In December, the CoreLogic® Home Price Index (HPI) for Utah, which measures home price appreciation, experienced a 4.3% year-over-year increase. Nationally, the HPI increased 5.0% during the same period.

Inflation

The Zions Bank Utah Consumer Price Index decreased 0.1% from November to December for a trailing 12-month inflation of 0.5%. In the same period, the U.S. CPI decreased 0.6% for a trailing 12-month inflation of 0.8%.

Job Report

Utah’s unemployment rate decreased 0.1 point to 3.5% in December, while the national unemployment rate decreased 0.2 points to 5.6% in December.

March 2015

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Randy Shumway January 2015

Utah Economic Outlook

Randy Shumway, Zions Bank Economic Advisor

As much as technology affects the minutes of our days—checking email, keeping in touch with friends, and even reading articles like this—it has massive implications in the world of industry and business. Virtually every industry benefits from technology: for instance, agriculture becomes more efficient, education becomes more interactive, and healthcare becomes more effective. While technology connects us with people around the world, automates mundane tasks, and offers access to more information than ever before, it also creates jobs, increases earning power, and fuels our economy. Utah in particular has experienced tremendous growth in recent years due to the development and advancement of technology.

Technological development in Utah drives increased start-up funding, and raises wages for IT workers throughout the state. In 2014, the Provo-Orem area and the Salt Lake City-Ogden area ranked as two of the top twenty cities in the United States for receiving tech start-up funding. Provo-Orem received $462 million, putting it in eighth place, and Salt Lake City-Ogden received $275 million, putting it in twelfth place. If these figures are combined, Utah’s Wasatch Front ranks sixth in the nation for amount of tech start-up funding secured last year. Northern Utah County has embraced the moniker of the “Silicon Slopes” due to its sizeable base of information technology companies. Utah’s IT industry has enticed large companies, such as Oracle and Adobe, to build facilities and create more jobs in the state. Additionally, Utah-born technology companies such as PluralSight and Fusion-io have become big players in the industry. Information technology jobs typically pay higher than average wages. In 2012, the average annual IT wage in Utah was $69,269, compared to Utah’s average annual nonagricultural wage of $40,646. As competition has increased, so have wages.

While some of the successes of Utah’s technology economy predate the passage of the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) Initiative, this important legislation has certainly played a role in furthering the state’s commitment to innovation. In 2006, the Utah Legislature allocated $179 million to USTAR, which included $15 million in ongoing annual funding to support research teams at the University of Utah and Utah State University. It also provided $4 million to support economic outreach programs around the state, and $160 million for the construction of new research facilities. Although many factors boost Utah’s growing technology sector, having an environment that encourages research and innovation has certainly helped. Utah’s initial investment in technology research has already begun to pay dividends fewer than 10 years later.

Utah’s technology sector will continue to grow and benefit residents and businesses in the state. As Utah’s technology expertise increases, many industries within the state will flourish as well, creating a net positive impact for the economy.

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Computer server room

Short-Term U.S. Outlook

U.S. markets and data continue to demonstrate a range of economic indicators with both positive and negative implications. On one hand, crude oil prices continue to plunge and have lost 60 percent of their value in the past seven months. Oil prices have not been this low since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009. On the other hand, employment figures and U.S. gross domestic product are rising, showing market strength.

Falling prices have led to significant layoffs for oil workers, which could especially affect once-fast-growing areas like Texas. Decreasing oil revenues have resulted in budget concerns for oil-producing states like Alaska, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. The less diversified a state’s economy is, the more falling oil prices have a negative impact. For example, Louisiana loses $12 million for every $1 decline in the annual average price of a barrel of oil, according to the state’s chief economist, Greg Albrecht. Fortunately, the oil states’ economies are much more diverse than they were during the 1980s oil bust, so negative effects are mitigated.

Short-term interest rates have remained near zero since the beginning of the financial recession in 2008. Despite strong economic recovery, the Federal Reserve remains cautious about raising interest rates for fear of destabilizing growth. However, the Central Bank is expected to raise interest rates in mid-2015 upon confirmation that current growth rates are sustainable and will translate into long-term hiring.

If market data were the only indicator of an economy’s health, the prognosis for the United States would look shaky at best. Treasury yields have fallen to a 10-year low, with returns less than 1.7 percent at the end of January. U.S. Treasury yields are still better than other world economies, however: Germany’s 10-year note yields 0.3 percent and Switzerland’s 10-year note yields in the negative.

However, the U.S. is not in a recession; the U.S. economy is actually doing quite well. Employment numbers have been growing steadily, showing 12 months of 200,000-plus gains in nonfarm payrolls. Unemployment consistently decreased throughout 2014—falling from 6.6 percent in January to 5.6 percent in December.

U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) increased 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 according to the first estimate provided by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, released at the end of January. The slower growth was slightly disappointing following the 5.0 percent third-quarter growth, which was the strongest GDP growth since 2003. Because such growth is hard to sustain, economists were not surprised by the decrease. Previous forecasts had estimated fourth-quarter growth at around 3.3 percent. Overall U.S. GDP grew 2.4 percent in 2014—the strongest annual growth since 2010. Severe weather in the first quarter of 2014 put the biggest damper on growth, causing a GDP contraction right out of the gate.

Fourth-quarter GDP growth was driven in part by 4.3-percent growth in personal consumption expenditures—likely evidence of cheaper gas prices freeing up funds for other goods and services. Americans are expected to save approximately $750 on average at the gas pump this year.

Long-Term U.S. Outlook

The Congressional Budget Office’s 10-year budget predictions released in January were cautious to say the least. Federal debt held by the public currently stands at 74.1 percent of nominal GDP, which is more than twice what it was at the end of 2007 and higher than any year since 1950. Barring any changes to current law, that percentage could decline to 73.3 percent by 2018 and then hike up to 78.7 percent by 2025.

Other long-term projections depend on external variables, including the key global economies that interface with the United States. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects markedly slower growth in China in the coming years. The IMF also cut 2015 growth expectations for the Eurozone, Japan, and Russia. Given the large proportion of our exports that go to these areas, the strength of their economies and the amount of exports they buy directly impacts the United States.

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Zions Bank Wasatch Front Consumer Price Index decreased 0.1% National Consumer Price Index decreased 0.6%

U.S. Consumer Price Index

The Zions Bank Wasatch Front Consumer Price Index (CPI) decreased 0.1 percent from November to December on a non-seasonally-adjusted basis. The index has increased 0.5 percent since this same time last year. The national Consumer Price Index decreased 0.6 percent from November to December on a non-seasonally-adjusted basis and has increased 0.8 percent over the past twelve months.

Transportation prices experienced their largest month-to-month drop on record in the Wasatch Front CPI—declining 4.4 percent from November to December. Gas prices were the main driver of the drop in transportation prices, but lower car insurance packages also played a role. Gasoline averaged $2.66 per gallon in December, down from $3.11 in November.

Although consumers are saving significantly at the pump, they are paying a little bit more at the grocery store. Food at home prices increased 1.3 percent from November to December. A large portion of the increase was due to higher meat and poultry prices.

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National unemployment rate decreased to 5.6% Utah unemployment rate decreased to 3.5%

Labor Market

Utah’s unemployment rate dropped one tenth of one percent, from 3.6 percent to 3.5 percent in the month of December, finishing the year on a high note. Nonfarm employment grew by 3.9 percent and Utah’s economy added 50,700 jobs compared to December 2013. December marked the highest year-over-year job growth for any month in 2014 at 2.2 percent, building positive momentum for 2015. The number of unemployed Utahns actively seeking work was 49,900 in December—the first time that number has dropped below 50,000 since 2008 at the beginning of the Great Recession.

Despite fears about cratering oil prices, the U.S. also posted its lowest unemployment rate since 2008—down two-tenths of a percent in the month of December, from 5.8 to 5.6 percent. In further good news, unemployment benefit applications plunged to a 15-year low of 43,000 in January—an early indication that a relatively-high employment is likely to continue for at least a little while longer.

The only indicator that continued to seriously lag was wage growth: it grew only 1.7 percent in 2014, down from 1.9 percent in 2013. This means that Americans’ wages barely kept pace with inflation in 2014. Average hourly pay actually fell slightly in the month of December. Creating jobs is always the first concern, but as the U.S. reaches a healthy employment situation, wage growth is the next issue up for tackle.

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Utah Consumer Attitude Index increased 4.1 points National Consumer Price Index increased 9.8 points

U.S. Consumer Attitude Index

The Zions Bank Utah Consumer Attitude Index (CAI) increased 4.1 points to 113.4 in January, rising above 110 for the second time in three months and signifying that Utah’s economy is thriving. Consumers have high confidence in current and future economic prospects. The Utah CAI currently sits 17.2 points higher than its level twelve months ago. The national Consumer Confidence Index® increased 9.8 points to 102.9 from December to January.

The big jump in the Utah Consumer Attitude Index stems from higher expectations for the future. The Expectations Index, the sub-index of the CAI that reflects how consumers feel about economic conditions six months from now, increased 9.4 points to 113.3 in January. Each of the metrics used to determine confidence in the future—business conditions, job availability, and income expectations—increased by more than 5 percent from December to January.

Inflation expectations remain mixed. Fifty-four percent of Utahns expect interest rates for borrowing money to increase during the next 12 months, which represents a decrease of 2 percentage points from last month. Likewise, 63 percent of Utahns expect prices of consumer goods to increase over the next twelve months, down 7 points from December. However, 43 percent of Utahns expect a $1,000 investment in their 401K to be worth more than $1,000 one year from now. Nearly 10 percent more Utahns expect the U.S. economy to improve in the next year—up to 35 percent in January from 26 percent in December.

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Utah CoreLogic Home Price Index up 4.3% National CoreLogic Home Price Index up 5%

Housing Market

Housing prices continued to remain mostly flat in December, with a slight decrease both nationally and in Utah. According to the CoreLogic Home Price Index, home prices decreased 0.3 percent in Utah from November to December, which represents a 4.3-percent rise compared to December 2013. On the national scene, home prices also decreased 0.1 percent month over month, which represents a 5.0-percent climb from December 2013 prices. In Utah, home prices are still 11.5 percent below their September 2007 high, and home prices nationally are still 13.4 percent below their prerecession high.

Just as oil prices affect every aspect of the economy—from unemployment to wages to inflation—they also have a significant impact on home prices. Major cities with high employment in the oil and gas industry, such as Houston and Oklahoma City, tend to see home prices sway with oil prices, but these home price drops are usually delayed by a year or two.

The recent boom in drilling in the U.S. has led to the creation of boom towns across the nation that rely more on oil and gas jobs than large cities like Houston do. In these areas, a significant drop in oil prices often leads to an immediate drop in home prices, which helps to partially explain why the growth in home prices has been so slow across the nation over the past few months.

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Illustration of factory

The Private Sector’s Opportunity to Lead the Charge in Improving Utah’s Air Quality

According to a recent Envision Utah poll, poor air quality is the biggest downside to living in Utah. Although Utah’s metropolitan areas actually produce less pollution per capita than over half of the metropolitan areas in the country, the state’s unique topography—deep valleys and high peaks—traps pollution in the valleys at uniquely high levels. This compounds the effects of emissions during winter along the Wasatch Front, which is when inversion creates the most harmful health environment.

As the state’s population continues to swell, this issue will only worsen unless Utah leads technological innovation to improve air quality. Several remedies have been the subject of intense discussion, such as instigating a seasonal burn ban. However, there is one significant—and proportionally inexpensive—solution that could dramatically improve Utah’s air quality: Tier 3 automobiles and Tier 3 fuel.

Fueled by Tier 3 gasoline, Tier 3 motor vehicles produce a whopping 80 percent less pollution than traditional cars. Currently, motor vehicles generate almost half of the state’s pollution. For comparison, industry creates only 13 percent, while commercial buildings and residential homes create the remaining 39 percent. If all cars on Utah’s roads were Tier 3 vehicles (fueled with Tier 3 gasoline), the Wasatch Front’s per capita winter pollution would decrease by 40 percent. Such a transition would reduce pollution at a level equivalent to removing four out of every five vehicles on the road today.

No other single initiative can reduce air pollution in Utah so drastically and at such a low cost. Even without Tier 3 vehicles, simply refueling traditional automobiles with Tier 3 gasoline would significantly reduce harmful emissions.

What’s the catch? Surprisingly, not much. A wide variety of Tier 3-equivalent vehicles are available today in other parts of the country, often in the exact makes and models sold at new car dealerships throughout Utah. Tier 3 cars have two main differences from traditional cars: their catalytic converters are approximately $87 more expensive and their fuel typically costs $0.01–$0.04 more per gallon. Tier 3 cars are otherwise equivalent in price and performance with traditional vehicles.

In the future, the EPA will require new cars to meet Tier 3 standards: by 2025, the entire fleet of cars sold in Utah will need to be Tier 3 compliant. Refineries in Utah are studying options and preparing to implement the elements necessary to produce Tier 3 fuels, although when they will ultimately transition to Tier 3 fuels is still unknown. With our unique topography and weather conditions in Utah, we can’t upgrade to Tier 3 cars and fuels soon enough.

Ninety-nine percent of Utahns indicate they are willing to change their behavior to improve Utah’s air quality, according to the study by Envision Utah. But how can invested residents purchase and run Tier 3 vehicles if they aren’t available in Utah? And even if residents were to buy Tier 3 vehicles from out of state, they would need access to Tier 3 fuels to bring maximum benefits to air quality.

Utah’s private sector has the opportunity to lead the way toward real change. What if even just one Utah-based automobile dealership and one local gasoline retail chain opted to champion air quality by selling Tier 3 automobiles and fuel? These companies would immediately differentiate themselves to a substantial audience, and provide a convenient, high-impact avenue for Utah residents to act on their commitment to air quality. By introducing viable Tier 3 vehicles and fuel this year, these companies would jumpstart air quality improvement years in advance of federal regulation requirements. Along with burnishing these companies’ reputations, such a proactive decision would establish the Utah private sector’s commitment to green innovation.

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Teacher and student at laptop

Technology in Schools

Technology has a big impact not just on the business environment in Utah, but also on the state’s education system. By exposing students to new ideas and enabling new pedagogical strategies, technology enhances and maximizes classroom learning. In recent years, technology has made teaching and learning more interactive, which helps students apprehend and internalize information more easily.

Most schools throughout the state have implemented substantial technology into their classrooms. Beyond enhancing lectures, technology provides access to standard industry software that students need for homework and extra-curricular tasks. For example, Iron County Schools recently entered into a deal with Microsoft in which Microsoft Office software was made available to all K-12 students for use at home and school. Other schools give students access to iPads and similar devices to use learning apps or check out software. Bringing more technology into the classroom can enhance learning opportunities for Utah’s students and help teachers employ innovative teaching methods. When students and teachers have the same software access, teachers can include new technology components in their curriculum.

The more access and exposure students get to technology in the classroom, the more equipped they will be to successfully leverage technology in higher education and in their careers. The positive effects of Utah’s advancing technology industry are far-reaching for education.

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Consumer Confidence

The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index® increased 9.8 points to 102.9 in January. The Present Situation Index increased 12.7 points to 112.6, while the Expectations Index increased 7.9 points to 96.4.

Housing Market

In December, the CoreLogic® Home Price Index (HPI) for Idaho, which measures home price appreciation, experienced a year-over-year increase of 1.3%. Nationally, the HPI increased 5.0% during the same period.

Inflation

The U.S. Consumer Price Index decreased 0.6% from November to December. The Index saw a year-over-year increase of 0.8%, which is below the Federal Reserve’s target annual inflation pace of 2–3%.

Job Report

Idaho’s unemployment rate decreased 0.2 percentage points to 3.7% in December, while the national unemployment rate also decreased 0.2 percentage points to 5.6% in December.

March 2015

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Randy Shumway January 2015

Idaho Economic Outlook

Randy Shumway, Zions Bank Economic Advisor

As much as technology affects the minutes of our days—checking email, keeping in touch with friends, and even reading articles like this—it has massive implications in the world of industry and business. Virtually every industry benefits from technology: for instance, agriculture becomes more efficient, education becomes more interactive, and healthcare becomes more effective. While technology connects us with people around the world, automates mundane tasks, and offers access to more information than ever before, it also creates jobs, increases earning power, and fuels our economy.

Over the past 40 years, Idaho has built a strong business culture of technology and innovation. Micron Technology, the only United States-based memory chip maker was founded in Idaho in the 1970s. Additionally, Idaho is the center of Hewlett-Packard’s Imaging and Print Group, known for introducing the HP LaserJet printer. Technology is one of Idaho’s largest and fastest-growing industries. New high-tech businesses produce a plethora of competitive products, ranging from software to semiconductors to nanomaterials. Idaho is home to approximately 49,322 technology and innovation jobs, and annual income in the sector averages $88,547. The industry is expected to grow 13.7 percent over the next ten years, bringing more technology jobs and expertise to the area. The Idaho Technology Council drives increased technological innovation within the state, and supports the relocation of technology companies to Idaho. It partners with organizations such as Idaho TechConnect and Don’t Fail Idaho to promote its goals. Don’t Fail Idaho is a public awareness campaign that focuses on improving education in Idaho in order to build a skilled workforce that can meet the demands of growing companies, including technology companies. Similarly, Idaho TechConnect evolved out of the Governor’s Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC) that works with industries and universities in Idaho. Idaho TechConnect collaborated with the Idaho Technology Council to develop a strategic plan focused on advancing Science and Technology in the state.

Idaho’s technology sector will continue to grow and benefit residents and businesses. As Idaho’s technology expertise increases, many industries within the state will flourish as well, creating a net positive impact for the economy.

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Computer server room

Short-term U.S. Outlook

U.S. markets and data continue to demonstrate a range of economic indicators with both positive and negative implications. On one hand, crude oil prices continue to plunge and have lost 60 percent of their value in the past seven months. Oil prices have not been this low since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009. On the other hand, employment figures and U.S. gross domestic product are rising, showing market strength.

Falling prices have led to significant layoffs for oil workers, which could especially affect once-fast-growing areas like Texas. Decreasing oil revenues have resulted in budget concerns for oil-producing states like Alaska, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. The less diversified a state’s economy is, the more falling oil prices have a negative impact. For example, Louisiana loses $12 million for every $1 decline in the annual average price of a barrel of oil, according to the state’s chief economist, Greg Albrecht. Fortunately, the oil states’ economies are much more diverse than they were during the 1980s oil bust, so negative effects are mitigated. Short-term interest rates have remained near zero since the beginning of the financial recession in 2008. Despite strong economic recovery, the Federal Reserve remains cautious about raising interest rates for fear of destabilizing growth. However, the Central Bank is expected to raise interest rates in mid-2015 upon confirmation that current growth rates are sustainable and will translate into long-term hiring.

If market data were the only indicator of an economy’s health, the prognosis for the United States would look shaky at best. Treasury yields have fallen to a 10-year low, with returns less than 1.7 percent at the end of January. U.S. Treasury yields are still better than other world economies, however: Germany’s 10-year note yields 0.3 percent and Switzerland’s 10-year note yields in the negative.

However, the U.S. is not in a recession; the U.S. economy is actually doing quite well. Employment numbers have been growing steadily, showing 12 months of 200,000-plus gains in nonfarm payrolls. Unemployment consistently decreased throughout 2014—falling from 6.6 percent in January to 5.6 percent in December.

U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) increased 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 according to the first estimate provided by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, released at the end of January. The slower growth was slightly disappointing following the 5.0 percent third-quarter growth, which was the strongest GDP growth since 2003. Because such growth is hard to sustain, economists were not surprised by the decrease. Previous forecasts had estimated fourth-quarter growth at around 3.3 percent. Overall U.S. GDP grew 2.4 percent in 2014—the strongest annual growth since 2010. Severe weather in the first quarter of 2014 put the biggest damper on growth, causing a GDP contraction right out of the gate.

Fourth-quarter GDP growth was driven in part by 4.3-percent growth in personal consumption expenditures—likely evidence of cheaper gas prices freeing up funds for other goods and services. Americans are expected to save approximately $750 on average at the gas pump this year.

Long-Term U.S. Outlook

The Congressional Budget Office’s 10-year budget predictions released in January were cautious to say the least. Federal debt held by the public currently stands at 74.1 percent of nominal GDP, which is more than twice what it was at the end of 2007 and higher than any year since 1950. Barring any changes to current law, that percentage could decline to 73.3 percent by 2018 and then hike up to 78.7 percent by 2025.

Other long-term projections depend on external variables, including the key global economies that interface with the United States. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects markedly slower growth in China in the coming years. The IMF also cut 2015 growth expectations for the Eurozone, Japan, and Russia. Given the large proportion of our exports that go to these areas, the strength of their economies and the amount of exports they buy directly impacts the United States.

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National Consumer Price Index decreased 0.6%

U.S. Consumer Price Index

The U.S. Consumer Price Index decreased 0.6 percent from November to December on a non-seasonally-adjusted basis and has increased 0.8 percent over the past twelve months. A major contributor to the fall in prices was the gasoline price index, which declined 9.4 percent from November to December. Compared with this time last year, the energy price index has declined 10.6 percent. The fuel oil index also fell sharply from November to December, and the energy index posted its largest one-month decline since December 2008, although the indexes for natural gas and for electricity both increased.

While consumers are saving money at the gas pump, they are paying a little more for food at the grocery store. The food price index rose 0.3 percent in December, which marked its largest increase since September. Over the past twelve months it has increased 3.4 percent—its largest yearly increase since February 2012.

Shelter and medical care prices increased in December but were offset by decreases in several other indexes, including apparel, airline fares, used cars and trucks, household furnishings, and new vehicles.

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National unemployment rate decreased to 5.6% Idaho unemployment rate decreased to 3.7%

Labor Market

Idaho’s unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point in December, from 3.9 to 3.7 percent, marking a seven-year low. This came as the economy added 300 jobs and the labor force declined by 1,300 workers. Total employment hit 743,200—a record high for Idaho. Although the unemployment situation continues to be more difficult in rural areas, December marked the seventh straight month wherein not one Idaho county had double-digit unemployment rates. This indicates a relatively equal distribution of employment recovery across the state.

Despite fears about cratering oil prices, the U.S. also posted its lowest unemployment rate since 2008—down two-tenths of a percent in the month of December, from 5.8 to 5.6 percent. In further good news, unemployment benefit applications plunged to a 15-year low of 43,000 in January—an early indication that a relatively-high employment is likely to continue for at least a little while longer.

The only indicator that continued to seriously lag was wage growth: it grew only 1.7 percent in 2014, down from 1.9 percent in 2013. This means that Americans’ wages barely kept pace with inflation in 2014. Average hourly pay actually fell slightly in the month of December. Creating jobs is always the first concern, but as the U.S. reaches a healthy employment situation, wage growth is the next issue up for tackle.

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National Consumer Price Index increased 9.8 points

U.S. Consumer Confidence Index

Consumer confidence started high as the new year began. The Consumer Confidence Index had increased in December to 93.1 but rose even more sharply in January to 102.9—the highest it has been since August 2007. The Present Situation Index, which measures how consumers feel about current economic conditions, rose 12.7 points to 112.6 in January. The Expectations Index, which reflects how consumers feel about economic conditions six months from now, increased 7.9 points to 96.4.

Consumers were more positive about current economic conditions and the labor market. The percentage of consumers who think business conditions are good increased 3.4 points to 28.1 percent. Likewise, the percentage of consumers stating that jobs are plentiful increased 3.3 points to 20.5 percent.

Consumers also showed a high degree of confidence in the short-term economic outlook. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months rose from 0.6 points to 18.4 percent, while those expecting business conditions to worsen declined from 9.9 percent to 7.7 percent. The percentage of consumers who think jobs will be plentiful six months from now increased 2.1 points to 16.7 percent. Expectations for household incomes were optimistic: 20.0 percent of consumers foresee an income increase compared with 16.2 percent last month. Strong GDP growth and employment growth in the last part of 2014 positively contributed to consumer sentiment in January.

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Idaho Corelogic Home Price Index up 1.3% National CoreLogic Home Price Index up 5%

Housing Market

Housing prices continued to remain mostly flat in December, with a slight decrease both nationally and in Idaho. According to the CoreLogic Home Price Index, home prices decreased 0.3 percent in Idaho from November to December, which represents a 1.3-percent rise compared to December 2013. On the national scene, home prices also decreased 0.1 percent month over month, which represents a 5.0-percent climb from December 2013 prices. In Idaho, home prices are still 19.5 percent below their September 2007 high, and home prices nationally are still 13.4 percent below their pre-recession high.

Just as oil prices affect every aspect of the economy—from unemployment to wages to inflation—they also have a significant impact on home prices. Major cities with high employment in the oil and gas industry, such as Houston and Oklahoma City, tend to see home prices sway with oil prices, but these home price drops are usually delayed by a year or two.

The recent boom in drilling in the U.S. has led to the creation of boom-towns across the nation that rely more on oil and gas jobs than large cities like Houston do. In these areas, a significant drop in oil prices often leads to an immediate drop in home prices, which helps to partially explain why the growth in home prices has been so slow across the nation over the past few months.

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Illustration of factory

The Private Sector’s Opportunity to Lead the Charge in Improving Idaho’s Air Quality

Per capita pollution in Idaho is among the lowest in the country. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, the unique topography of the Treasure Valley area—deep valleys and high peaks—traps pollution on the valley floor at uniquely high levels. Cold temperatures compound the effects of emissions during winter, creating a potentially harmful health environment. As the population of the Boise metropolitan area continues to grow—rising nearly 2 percent per year—the issue of pollution will become worse.

There is one significant—and proportionally inexpensive—solution that could dramatically improve Idaho’s overall air quality: Tier 3 automobiles and Tier 3 fuel. Fueled by Tier 3 gasoline, Tier 3 motor vehicles produce a whopping 80 percent less pollution than traditional cars. Currently, motor vehicles generate roughly half of the state’s pollution. To put it in perspective, the other half of the state’s pollution is generated collectively by everything else – factories, farming, construction, industry and households. If all cars on Idaho’s roads were Tier 3 vehicles (fueled with Tier 3 gasoline), per capita pollution would decrease by 40 percent. Such a transition would reduce pollution levels equivalent to removing four out of every five vehicles on the road today.

No other single initiative can reduce air pollution in Idaho so drastically and at such a low cost. Even without Tier 3 vehicles, simply refueling traditional automobiles with Tier 3 gasoline would significantly reduce harmful emissions.

What’s the catch? Surprisingly, not much. A wide variety of Tier 3-equivalent vehicles are available today in other parts of the country, often in the exact makes and models sold at new car dealerships throughout Idaho. Tier 3 cars have two main differences from traditional cars: their catalytic converters are approximately $87 more expensive and their fuel typically costs $0.01–$0.04 more per gallon. Tier 3 cars are otherwise equivalent in price and performance with traditional vehicles. In the future, the EPA will require new cars to meet Tier 3 standards: by 2025, the entire fleet of cars sold in Idaho will need to be Tier 3 compliant. Refineries across the country are studying options, and some are already implementing the elements necessary to produce Tier 3 fuels; although when they will ultimately transition to Tier 3 fuels is still unknown.

Given the unique topography and growing population of Idaho’s metropolitan areas, we can’t upgrade to Tier 3 cars and fuels soon enough. At this point, however, Tier 3 vehicles aren’t available in Idaho. And even if invested residents were to buy Tier 3 vehicles from out of state, they would need access to Tier 3 fuels to maximize air quality improvement.

Idaho’s private sector has the opportunity to lead the way toward real change. What if even just one Idaho-based automobile dealership and one local gasoline retail chain opted to champion air quality by selling Tier 3 automobiles and fuel? These companies would immediately differentiate themselves to a substantial audience, and provide a convenient, high-impact avenue for Idaho residents to act on their commitment to air quality. By introducing viable Tier 3 vehicles and fuel this year, these companies would jumpstart air quality improvement years in advance of federal regulation requirements. Along with burnishing these companies’ reputations, such a proactive decision would establish the Gem State’s commitment to green innovation.

Read more Read more
Teacher and student at laptop

Technology in Schools

Technology has a big impact not just on the business environment in Idaho, but also on the state’s education system. By exposing students to new ideas and enabling new pedagogical strategies, technology enhances and maximizes classroom learning. In recent years, technology has made teaching and learning more interactive, which helps students apprehend and internalize information more easily. Making a sizeable investment in elementary and high schools, Idaho’s legislature pledged funding last year to launch technology pilot projects in school districts within the state.

Emphasizing a full integration technology model, the Idaho Legislature appropriated $3 million to improve student academic growth and increase financial efficiencies. This grant funding is available to selected school districts throughout the state for periods of up to two years for the purpose of implementing technology. Once a technology model is fully integrated at a single school building, it will be scalable to other buildings and will eventually be sustainable throughout the state.

Unfortunately, technology in many schools in Idaho is insufficient. Bringing more technology into the classroom can enhance learning opportunities for Idaho’s students and help teachers employ new, innovative teaching methods. The more access and exposure students get to technology in the classroom, the more equipped they will be to successfully leverage technology in higher education and in their careers. By rolling out technology in schools, Idaho is supporting children in experiencing the most current trends in education, information, and learning.

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This page was last modified on Mon Mar 30 14:19:27 MDT 2015